Our tourism system is broken – time to customize

tourism greece

(Alessandra Caretto, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Robert Govers, Author


Are we unwillingly killing the geese that lay the golden eggs? The communities that tourists want to visit are increasingly under pressure from tourism. Essentially, no one person is liable. Human beings want to travel; who can blame them? Hoteliers are happy to provide beds, that’s their business. Food and beverage providers and museums welcome the additional spending to supplement the revenue they earn from locals. Policymakers are happy with the jobs created and hence accept visitors using public services and spaces.

All good, as long as the locals don’t complain, the jobs provide careers with perspective, service providers make healthy profits, and the local ecology is not vandalized. Unfortunately, today, none of this is true.

An old system

Why is the tourism system broken? Well, younger generations probably have a hard time imagining this, but the tourism system was built in a way that was completely opaque; a time without the internet. How would a traveler compare and book flights, accommodation or any other part of an itinerary? The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t. A tour operator and/or travel agent would do it for them.

So, as travelers were in the dark, we created global brands for them to put their faith in. Global-travel trade brands, hospitality brands, airline brands. All of that made complete sense as ways to build reliability, trustworthiness and consistency in an opaque market. Even attractions have become global brands (Disney, Madame Tussauds, Guggenheim, The Dungeons). All global brands dominating destination brands.

In addition, in order to protect consumers in such an opaque system, many governments created legislation that would establish legal liability for tour operators and travel agents if their clients were able to prove that they were provided with misleading information. As a result, the travel trade created a system of standardized information; a fact-based system like the usual star-classification system that described the offering in objectified terms: a hotel x meters from the beach, with rooms of y square meters in a destination with z hours of sunshine in a year on average. So, in such a system with packaged products, consumers would start to compare offerings only on packaging (brand) and price. Hey presto, the commodification of travel in which the destination has become virtually irrelevant.

Disposable destinations

We created a system in which destinations have become disposable gadgets – public commodities. The travel trade was forced to do that; we can’t really hold them accountable. Airlines don’t really care and they shouldn’t; they are in the business of moving people around. Today’s online booking engines don’t care; they are just brokers. And in the meantime, travelers compare offerings largely on price, continuing the downward spiral of profits, wages and uncompensated social and ecological impacts. The outdated complex system of commodification we created makes it hard to charge price premiums, even for destinations that face dramatic overtourism.

So which parts of the system should care? The hospitality industry should. With the online review systems, as the successes of Airbnb and boutique hotels have shown, the relevance of standardization of global hospitality brands has diminished. They are now being judged – partly – on the basis of how they integrate their services into the local experience of place. Also, the travel trade should care. If they don’t start to specialize and sell truly enhanced experiences, that one can’t buy everywhere else, they will lose their relevance altogether. Today, we need customized authenticity in sustainable destinations, not homogeneity. In other words: everyone should care.

Community reputation

Still, unfortunately, today, travel continues to be seen as a standardized, supply-driven commodity. Mass advertising shows that many destinations really don’t have a clue about who their potential guests are and what experiences they are looking for, or have never really gone through the trouble of finding out. Destination brands (or rather, their logos and slogans) continue to be used just to sell more airline seats and hotel beds, not to actually build community reputation.

However, with the discussions about overtourism, there seems to be a shift in perspective. Many communities are starting to object to tour operator-driven, large-group mass tourism, cruise liners administering shocks to the system as they disembark their ships, or governments providing state funding to low-cost airlines by cross-subsidizing airports, overstimulating demand. At the same time, communities don’t seem to be antagonistic towards tourism per se, but they are probably just looking for partnership; a reputation alliance in which all actors are not just concerned about short-term profits, but just as much about long-term reputational stability.

There was a time when all businesses were concerned about their reputation in the local community in which they operated, because their business depended on trust in local markets. We’ve forgotten about this as globalization created universal players. Yet, for tourism businesses it should remain a concern as their long-term success depends tremendously on local communities. Without attractive sustainable destinations, no tourism!

Imaginative communities

What we need to focus on is the creation of imaginative communities: groups of people and businesses that share a sense of identity, history and belonging. Imaginative communities have a clear understanding of what it is that brings the community together; what the sense of comradeship and purpose is. Imaginative communities reinforce and strengthen this identity while featuring it in original, creative, innovative, captivating and inspiring initiatives that show the world what the community is about in order to build a distinctive, relevant, authentic, consistent and memorable reputation.

Imaginative communities stand out and hence become irresistible destinations for some, yet unattractive to others. Based on that, destinations can define appropriate tourism product-market combinations; targeted travel experiences. They can select the appropriate components in the tourism system that deliver on these experiences in the best way possible. This facilitates community-alliances in which the destination takes back control of the tourism system as opposed to being a victim of it. Destinations can then move away from mass media advertising – being everything for everyone – to target content marketing through their community-alliances in the tourism system.

 

In the long run, such a system would benefit all, with more rewarding experiences for tourists; a more sustainable impact of tourism on the community; healthier margins for tourism service providers (because enhanced experience customization warrants a price premium) and hence better and more rewarding jobs for people working in the tourism system.

Destinations are communities that should be at the center of the tourism system, not just a name on a map.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

After the Italian ‘no’ and the Brexit, Germans must decide which Europe they want

Will satellites destroy our view of space?

EU Youth Conference in Amsterdam: enabling young people to engage in a diverse, connected and inclusive Europe

Eurozone: How can 200 banks find €400 billion?

VW diesel scandal and climate change: can increased independent car checks lead to cleaner mobility?

EU to give more power to national antitrust authorities in a bid to secure regulatory fines

Budget MEPs approve €34m in EU aid to Greece, Poland, Lithuania and Bulgaria

Rule of law: MEPs travel to Malta to meet with government, NGOs and journalists

TTIP 9th Round marked by American disappointment: Will some optimism save this trade agreement?

Ebola fight ongoing amid evidence of ‘several massacres’ in DR Congo’s Ituri province

The Future of Balkans: Embracing Education

Pakistan’s digital revolution is happening faster than you think

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: Bicycles for the environment, new leader for the UN General Assembly, UN values, Ebola, Syria and Libya

Chinese “BeiDou” GPS goes to market

How big data can help us fight climate change faster

EU Parliament raises burning issues over the FTA with the US

Trade in counterfeit goods costs UK economy billions of euros

European Commission steps up protection of European intellectual property in global markets

Vile act of torture prohibited ‘under all circumstances’, UN chief affirms on International Day to support victims

Guterres says UN stands ready to support Brazil’s search and rescue effort in wake of tragic dam collapse

The business case for investing in sustainable plastics

Internet milestone reached, as more than 50 per cent go online: UN telecoms agency

What little Cameron got in Brussels seems enough to keep Britain in the EU

China-EU Summit on 16-17 July 2018: “Work together to address common challenges”, by China’s Ambassador to the EU

In Libya, Guterres ‘deeply concerned’ by risk of fresh military confrontation, urges restraint

National parks transformed conservation. Now we need to do the same for the ocean

‘Fire-fighting approach’ to humanitarian aid ‘not sustainable’: Deputy UN chief

Eurozone: The crisis hit countries are again subsidizing the German and French banks

10 expert predictions for the next decade in Chinese AI

EU, Latin America and the Caribbean: Partnering for prosperity, democracy, resilience and global governance

Pandemic declared as infections slow in China. Today’s 7 coronavirus updates

The Prime Minister of Spain on climate change, taxes and more

US announcement on breaking ties with the World Health Organisation: Statement by the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative/ Vice-President Josep Borrell

Election-related violence claims 85 lives in Afghanistan: UN report

The European Commission to stop Buffering

‘Eco-shaming’ is on the rise, but does it work?

Germany to re-invent its security position in Europe and a chaotic world

Russia and the EU ‘trade’ natural gas supplies and commercial concessions in and out of Ukraine

Google’s hot summer never ends: EC to launch ANOTHER antitrust inquiry against the American giant

The EU Parliament and the ECB unknowingly or unwillingly fail to protect our financial assets

An economist explains why women are paid less

Compensation for damages by the State for infringement of EU law: the European Commission refers Spain to the Court of Justice for its rules on the compensation for damages incurred by private parties

UN chief welcomes power-sharing deal between Sudanese military and opposition

Further reforms will promote a stronger and more inclusive Hungarian economy

ECB intervenes to clean May’s and Schäuble’s mess

Governments urged to put first ever UN global migration pact in motion, post-Marrakech

12 ideas on how the private sector can help ensure universal healthcare access by 2030

5G security: Member States report on progress on implementing the EU toolbox and strengthening safety measures

Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

US prosecutors now target Volkswagen’s top management, upsetting Germany

Malta and Slovakia: MEPs warn of lack of judicial independence and corruption

Permafrost is thawing so fast it’s gouging holes in the Arctic

What brands get wrong about China – and how to put it right

‘Let the children live’: UN prepares to ramp up food aid to Yemen as famine risk grows

A Trumpist squad shook Davos and the world

Press coverage of migration crisis in Europe: a call for collaborative action

These are the world’s most competitive economies

Help African farmers cope with climate change threats, UN food agency urges

A pandemic of solidarity? This is how people are supporting one another as coronavirus spreads

How listening to patients could change the way we tackle cancer

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s