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.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

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

UN rights chief ‘appalled’ by US border detention conditions, says holding migrant children may violate international law

Long-term EU budget: MEPs lay down funding priorities for post-2020 budget

UN rights chief calls for international inquiry into Kashmir violations

EU-US trade agreement talks to be affected by American bugs

Dreaming of China

Keeping cool in the face of climate change

Here are 4 ways investors can influence more secure and responsible innovation

These are the best cities for tech

Across the world, women outlive men. This is why

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ clean-up project launches trial run: UN Environment

Central banking in times of complexity

Are Halloween pumpkins a problem for the planet?

Is continuous sanctioning the way to resolve the Ukrainian crisis?

Better air pollution data is helping us all breathe easier. Here’s how

TTIP is not dead as of yet, the 15th round of negotiations in New York shouts

Is Germany closer to Russia than the West? Nord Stream II and Iran count more

Be a part of the World Forum on Future Trends in Defence and Security

Industrial price dive may lead to point of no return

Unanswered questions for Europe’s youth in President Juncker’s State of Union

This mobile laundry gives homeless people free showers and washes their clothes

The power of digital tools to transform mental healthcare

Waste-free consumption: 3 reasons why cities will lead

Right2Water initiative: Is the Commission ready to listen to citizens?

Japan’s population is shrinking by a quarter of a million people every year

Clean air is good for business

eGovernmnet for more efficiency, equality and democracy

Commissioner sings “Volar-e” but the European driver no “Cantar-e”

Education expenditure in the EU not hurt much by crisis

Not a single child spared the ‘mind-boggling violence’ of Yemen’s war

Thai citizenship means ‘dream of a brighter future’ for cave rescue boys, says UN Refugee Agency

Coal addiction ‘must be overcome’ to ease climate change, UN chief says in Bangkok

Peacekeeping: A ‘great opportunity’ to develop professionally and personally

Time to make a fundamental choice about the future of healthcare

UN standing with Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique as Southern Africa death toll from deadly cyclone mounts

Good grub: why we might be eating insects soon

The European Sting at the Retail Forum for Sustainability live from Barcelona

The number of internally displaced people is at a record high. Here’s why

Online shopping across the EU to be easier from 3 December

We need greater protection for our oceans. We can’t let politics stand in the way

JADE Testimonial #2: Jacques @ Process mapping

Asylum seekers in Sri Lanka fear for their safety, in wake of Easter Sunday terror attacks

At UN forum, Asia-Pacific countries highlight importance of transport for sustainable development

Preserving biodiversity vital to reverse tide of climate change, UN stresses on International Day

South Sudan: UN rights experts see little headway on peace deal amid spike in local-level violence

Commission paralysed before the banking leviathan

UN launches new framework to strengthen fight against terrorism

We now know how much ice Antarctica has lost in the last 25 years – three trillion tonnes

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Race is on’ to halt biodiversity loss in Indonesia

We are on the edge of a new ‘cyber’ space age. This is how we make it a success

Juncker Plan exceeds original €315 billion investment target

G20 to Germany: Abandon miser policies

The ECB proposes a swift solution for SMEs’ financing

UN sees progress in fight against tobacco, warns more action needed to help people quit deadly product

Good Governance in developing modern quality infrastructure systems

UN envoy says he ‘is ready to go to Idlib’ to help ensure civilian safety amid rising fears of government offensive

Five ways individuals can help save the oceans

‘A global measles crisis’ is well underway, UN agency chiefs warn

Measles cases nearly doubled in a year, UN health agency projects

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Eco-warriors’ fight climate change in South Africa

UN chief urges ‘active, substantive and meaningful participation’ on International Day of Democracy

More Stings?

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