Tourism is a key sector, the promotion of which increases foreign exchange earnings. Hence those in charge of the national strategy must act simultaneously with optimism and prudence.
Tourism is changing. Just a generation ago, few people traveled abroad, and when they did, their destinations were familiar and generally easily accessible; They used to go to groups further away. Today, tourists are more demanding, they plan their vacations on their own and make their reservations; It is what tourism experts call a "free and independent traveler."
Almost all countries have recognized the potential of tourism and are trying to increase the number of foreign visitors, thereby increasing their service exports. Until about five years ago, the few tourism strategies focused on selling. But even the adoption of a well-structured method to promote tourism is not enough to constitute an adequate strategy.
How to manage the accelerated growth of tourism
It is estimated that by 2020 the number of international travelers will triple. And where will all these people go? The capacity of the most popular destinations is limited, and there are also few places suitable for intensive tourist development that could ruin the environment that visitors are precisely looking for.
I believe that tourism can bring great benefits, but I am also concerned about the lack of a management coordinated. In many places we can see the damage that tourism can cause when it only obeys demand. What can be done to prevent this from happening?
Channeling all aspirations into a national tourism strategy is not enough. Tourism is usually concentrated in a few regions and even in some extremely popular small towns, which require specific plans. Without Insights, planning, promotion and management, the national strategy alone is useless.
There are three ideas that tourism planners should keep in mind from the beginning:
- Tourists will come anyway, whether or not there is a national strategy. Now, will it be the kind of tourists you want to attract and will the country be able to welcome them properly, in order to increase profits and minimize the problems associated with their presence?
- Tourists are very diverse: the backpacker who travels the world on foot does not look for the same as the businessman, the person who often goes on vacation, the sick person who goes to another country for treatment or the person who visits friends family members.
- The tourism strategy should not be limited to sales; should also deal with the management and to optimize the social, economic and environmental benefits that tourism can generate.
A perishable product
Tourism is also a highly perishable product. An industrial product can always be sold in the future, but unoccupied tourism capacity is an unrecoverable loss of income. Tourism demand is usually seasonal, so adjusting supply to demand is essential to ensure its viability. Unlike industry, tourism affects all the inhabitants of a locality, and not only those who participate directly in this sector.
Unfortunately, few countries, regions and localities have coherent tourism strategies. Unlike developed countries, where regulatory, social and commercial infrastructure offers a context of management For tourism, progress in tourism in developing countries is often driven by the short-term financial criteria of promoters and multinational companies. Lately, "environmental sustainability" has become a factor of great interest for local tourism planning. Equally important is cultural and community sustainability. The popularization of crafts and traditions can cause permanent distortions if the local culture becomes one more product to attract foreign visitors.
An integrated approach
Often the national tourism strategy deals exclusively with foreign visitors, neglecting or underestimating the value of national tourism. In developed countries with a large population, domestic tourism will be more important than foreign tourism, both in volume and value. In the United Kingdom, a tourist destination highly appreciated internationally, national tourism still represents 80% of the total. In fact, local clientele can be significant even in developing countries, where much of the tourism infrastructure will depend on the national market.
Tourism often helps host countries to have the financial means to maintain their cultural heritage. It also happens that the continuity of public utility services and retail trade - essential for economic viability - depends on tourists, even when their spending represents only a small part of total income.
But what if the demand generated by tourism increases and is transformed? New facilities and larger hotels will be built to accommodate a more demanding clientele. Some of the more traditional, mid-range establishments may take advantage of this demand to modernize and grow. But it is likely that many of the companies in the middle and especially lower segments will not be able to benefit from this new demand, will decline and go bankrupt.
Answers to these problems should be sought in the Insights and planning, in the professional training of tourism personnel and in the adoption of clear management strategies, which are understood by the sector and the official agencies concerned. It is always possible to influence the type of foreign tourism you want to attract, the characteristics of your visits and the development of the facilities and services appropriate to your needs.
It is really very important to improve the facilities for national tourism and enhance this sector, since the more travelers who prefer to visit their own country, the greater the income preserved by the national economy and the return on investment.
Tourism is not a homogeneous industry. In reality, it includes companies as diverse as airlines, shipping companies, bus companies, hotels and other hostels, entertainment, car rentals, festivals and events, guided tours, retail sales, tour circuits, etc. Although in almost all countries the largest companies are members of the sectoral associations, the tourism industry is mainly made up of small and medium-sized companies, less organized or willing to participate. How to bring them to the dialogue table? Methods abound, but to be convincing and effective, everyone must aim for participation in the process of designing and implementing a strategy. It should be remembered that some of the most important people for tourism may not work in this sector.
For the planner, dealing with all tourism-related activities poses several difficulties, such as obtaining accurate statistics. The kind of statistics that companies collect under commercial management and accounting, and countries for the purpose of border entry controls, do not lend themselves to the management, promotion and marketing of tourism. In effect, there is a tendency to minimize commercial figures for the payment of taxes, and to inflate them to affirm the position in the sector. Therefore, sectoral sources are not reliable.
ICT and changes
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are rapidly transforming the tourism sector, especially at the search, reservation and reservation levels. administrationAlthough online reservations are currently only possible at large hotels, airlines and operators.
Although this trend continues to take hold, we will have to wait until the majority of a country's tourism sector is connected to virtual networks to fully take advantage of its benefits. Meanwhile, ICTs continue to increase the profitability and efficiency of collecting and disseminating data on the sector's results.
Rules of quality
Having the guarantee that they will receive quality services is essential for tourists and, therefore, for the success of any tourism strategy. But very few companies, even in developed countries, provide their staff with good training in customer service. This responsibility does not apply only to hotels and their staff. For example, the Moroccan Tourism Office has sponsored telefilms during prime time to sensitize the entire population on how to treat tourists well.
Tourists often have to choose, without support, the services they are going to buy. There is still no global system that proposes a standardized description of hotels and other visitor services. In many countries there are no national systems, for fear that they will cost too much; in fact, they could function by self-evaluation, with inspections in case of complaints.
Quality control assumes that there are rules, or that professional groups, convinced of their commercial value, promote and adopt them.
The right word
Tourism professionals are not familiar with the terminology of export planning. However, concepts such as "external issues" (border-out), "peripheral issues" (border) and "internal issues" (border-in) are easily applied to the physical characteristics of tourism. For example, when considering external issues, tourism sector planners should analyze the means used by foreign visitors to make their reservations: travel agencies, tour operators or the internet. These means become marketing goals. Peripheral issues include tourist licenses, visas, entry procedures, and taxes. As for internal issues, these must be paramount to planners. Developing suitable products, promoting good management, training personnel, raising public awareness and creating a welcoming environment for tourists, wherever they go, are as important aspects as preparing to export in the production of goods.
The planner must know the tourist offer well, as well as the profile of the tourists who come to the country and of the potential visitors: categories of visitors, duration of their stay, characteristics of the visit. You should also know the main attractions of the country, that is, the aspects of the offer that make visitors prefer it and rule out competing countries. This implies taking an inventory of the resources, facilities and infrastructures, evaluating them based on their qualities, deficiencies, opportunities and risks, and analyzing them based on political, economic, social and technological criteria. This helps determine what tourism experts call the "fit" between the product and the market. Often, the existing product does not fully match potential markets, leading to improvising ways of matching those markets, rather than adjusting the product.
Then comes the definition of the 'product development plan', which includes the 'ideal resources' (which the country does not have, but needs to attract target markets) and national alliances that will improve the country's situation. It is about modernizing facilities and also human resources and ideas. Ecological and community groups play an important role in the protection of cultural heritage, and can form alliances with tour operators and circuit organizers. Tourism is a 'personalized' business, and tourists are sensitive to the quality of the reception by the tourist staff and the other people they meet during their visit.
Tourists prefer to visit safe and pleasant places. But the so-called "Disneyfication" of tourist destinations is not the way to ensure the levels that the visitor demands. The most demanding foreign tourist wants to know the real life, the atmosphere and the culture of the country they visit. Hence, authenticity is often a determining factor in attracting tourists.
International tourism is an area of strong competitiveness. But even if the products are suitable, success will depend on commercial promotion, the Insights and continuous improvements. In reality, without a strategy, tourism can be a disruptive and perhaps damaging factor. The economic, environmental and social benefits of a good tourism strategy are too valuable to ignore.
Article published by Ken Robinson
International Trade Forum - No. 1/2003