Bursting the “tourist bubble”

Back in “the day” tourism in cities took place in the “tourist bubble”. The “tourist bubble” is that safe space downtown, full of chain restaurants and attractions, which cater for conventioneers and leisure visitors. In these bubbles, hotels, conventions centers and other businesses that meet the specific needs of tourists cluster. Businesses in these areas “understand” tourists and cater to them. So do host cities that ensure these areas are safe and secure for visitors. In some ways, the tourist bubble was an effective way to “manage” tourism. Of course, the downside of these bubbles is that all start to look and feel the same.

In recent years – an interesting thing has begun. The bubble is beginning to burst. Fueled in part by home-sharing services like Airbnb, travelers are moving out of the bubble and staying in neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods, travelers seek more authentic experiences. Places like Fitzroy in Melbourne, and “family friendly” West Seattle are now “hot” tourist destinations according to Conde Nast Traveler. For an article on “hot neighborhood destinations – check out this article.

There are benefits for these neighborhoods from the new business – new customers for instance – but there will be challenges as well. These new visitors are changing neighborhoods in ways that could not have been predicted “back in the day”. As a new equilibrium is achieved, it will be important to understand the impacts – positive and negative – of these new visitors. The challenge, as with all tourism, is to not destroy what attracts us in the first place. Now, more than ever, neighborhoods need to understand the principles of sustainable tourism.


Successful, sustainable tourism – The courage to start with the market in mind

From a marketing perspective, the answer to “where do I start?” is always with your target market. For many small tourism businesses that can be a hard thing to do – after all – your product is right there in front of you – and it is beautiful.

Over summer I had the great pleasure of visiting tourism product in the area of San Juan de Arama in the Meta region of Colombia. As the ink dries on the peace treaty that ends the war in Colombia, the people of this region are working to develop post-conflict tourism in their region. They are developing an exciting vision of the future in which tourism is a tool to improve their quality of life. They envisage tourism that respects their culture and preserves the incredible natural places in their region. Like all great marketers – even now, at the very beginning of the process – they are thinking about the market they want to attract and the type of visitor they want to welcome.

While the textbooks may make this sound easy, I applaud the courage of these tourism marketers. It is not easy to stay focused on a specific type of tourist – one that shares respect for the environment and local people – when there are easier markets to go after. And it takes courage and faith to turn away business – even business that doesn’t exactly fit your vision for the future – when you are a small business and need short-term cash flow.

One of the tourism micro-entrepreneurs I met in the region was Ferney Perilla from Rerserva Natural el India Acostado. Ferney, confined to a wheelchair, has created an outstanding nature-based experience designed for responsible travelers who are keen to learn of the culture and natural heritage of the region. He knows exactly the type of traveler he wants to visit the Reserva.

Targeting the mass market and providing tourism products for the “lowest common denominator” may be easier in the short term – but in the long run it makes it harder to achieve the goals of the destination community. Congratulations to Ferney Perilla and all the tourism operators of San Juan for their wisdom in working together to create a great tourism destination – starting with the ideal market in mind.

In Defense of Small and Local (Social Entrepreneurs)


Ang Chomba Sherpa

There is an excitement about the power of social entrepreneurship. Unleashing the power of entrepreneurial thinking on social problems provides “out of the box” solutions  after years of “standard” responses these challenges. However, some of the most vocal advocates for social entrepreneurship only extoll the virtues of scalable solutions and game-changing approaches.

There is more to social enterprise than a few large organizations and I want to take a moment to celebrate social entrepreneurs that are working in their own small corners of the world, making real and positive change in communities around the world. Academics have called these social entrepreneurs “Bricoleurs”, from the French word bricolage – because they use what “is at hand”. These social entrepreneurs have deep understanding of the issues they are working on and strong relationships with the people they are working with.

P1030124Ang Chhomba Sherpa, chairman of Moving Mountains Nepal, is a social entrepreneur working to improve the lives of people living in the villages of the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. Chhomba and his colleagues at Moving Mountains provide electricity (via a micro-hydro system), healthcare and education (supporting some teachers’ salaries) in small villages. Moving Mountains uses funds generated by its for-profit sister company, Adventure Alternative, to help fund these projects. Chhomba, who is originally from the region, works closely with community leaders to achieve the goal of improving the lives of the villagers. While the scale of this work is focused on a specific region, Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative have been recognized internationally for their very real impact.

While we definitely need scalable, game changers – like Grameen Bank – that change the “big picture”, many social entrepreneurs in the tourism sector are addressing local issues and creating local solutions. For the people of those regions, social entrepreneurship is delivering on its promise.

Local is Hot and Smart

South Bank BrisbaneThe rise in “Local” is making an impact. One of the three big trends shapingmarketing today – So Mo Lo ( Social, Mobile and Local), “local” tends to be an afterthought in conversations that focus on the rise of mobile and the impact of social networking and marketing. But “local” is a big deal to tourism marketing and is changing the way the industry does business.

The focus on local has a couple of great benefits for tourism:

  • Local product and services build a “sense of place”.
  • “Local” tends to highlight differentiated product and so creates competitive advantage.
  • A good “local” story creates benefits for the whole tourism system. There’s a reason hoteliers are talking about “local” – exciting, interesting and attractive local destinations add a “brand halo” that supports hotel marketing objectives.
  • “Local” is great for the economy. It reduces economic leakage and increases the value of tourism to the destination community.
  • “Local” celebrates and spotlights local culture and heritage.

By the Way: Yes – supporting the growth in “local” is a sustainability strategy that improves the Triple Bottom Line.

This trend towards celebrating “local” – culture, arts, crafts, food, lifestyle – is being embraced in a creative ways by members of the tourism system. From boutique hotels, to farmers markets, to an increased interest in regional foods – its all about the what makes the destination unique and special.

So who is promoting local ? Hoteliers , Travel Media and Skift has a new trend report that looks at the Evolution of Local in Hospitality.

New Dimensions of Destination Branding

“A brand is no-longer what we tell consumers it is. It is what consumers tell each other.” Scott Cook – Founder of Intuit.

While Cook’s experience as a software developer may seem far removed from tourism, this insight is having profound impact on Destination Marketing. At a time when destination branding is becoming more important, there is a greater realization that branding is not just a function of “Promotion” – great advertising, PR, online advertising, etc –  another of the 4 P’s of marketing is taking its place in the spotlight: P for Product.

This makes a lot of sense – my brand experience of Apple is in using my ipad or iphone – not their advertising. My brand experience of Starbucks is in my visits to the “third place” – not from their (limited) advertising…. and yet for a long time we have talked about destination branding as though it was about finding a “magic message”.

Marketing is more than “promotion” and the time has come for DMOs to place more attention on “product”. The heavy lifting of brand development is being undertaken by a new breed of “customer experience managers” and DMO leaders engaging with city leaders and developers to ensure the destination product reflects the destination brand ideals.

Most DMOs have very limited budgets and building brand through advertising has little impact in a marketplace awash with messages. Destination Brand equity is created by consumers sharing with their friends, family and extended networks that the destination actually delivers on the promise. It probably always has been like this – its just that it is more obvious now.

DestinationNext, DMAI’s strategic road map for the future of destination marketing captures growing focus on ensuring the destination is managed to maximized benefits of tourism. The Destination Next theme,”Building and Protecting the Destination Brand”, recognizes that destination brand building includes being a cultural champion for the destination, supporting responsible and sustainable development and connecting visitor experience to resident’s quality of life. For many DMO’s that’s a very different “to do” list from years go past…

DMOs that invest in the visitor experience are using their branding resources in the best possible way…

Systems Thinking in Tourism

The idea that tourism is a system has been around for a while. Morrison and Mill wrote the first edition of The Tourism System in 1985 – and they weren’t the first to recognize the concept. Since then there have been advances – Louise Twining Ward – added that tourism was a Complex and Adaptive System and Noel Scott and his colleagues have done great work on understanding the dynamics within these networks.

So – if we know its a system – why don’t we treat it like one ? Why is it that when so many industry leaders talk about tourism they tend to assume top down, hierarchical decision making? You can’t just tell a system to do something…

Systems thinking is one of the important skills of Destination Managers. Networking, collaboration, negotiation, knowledge management, partnering, political skills…these are the tools for success in the tourism system.

Destinations of the future…

So what do the destinations of the future look like ?

It’s a great question. Too often it seems that as destinations become more popular – they become less appealing. We love our destinations to death.

That is why it is great that DMO managers are stepping up and engaging in the planning, developing and management of their destinations. No-longer are DMOs just promoting their destinations – they are actively involved in “product development” and “destination experience”. DestinationNext, DMAI’s strategic planning initiative, highlights DMOs important role in creating the destination communities of the future.

So what does the destination of the future look like ? There are encouraging clues in some of the recent work by McKinsey and Company – Building the Future of Cities with Green Districts.   If the trends identified by the folks at McKinsey are correct – we’ll see a greater emphasis on design in our cities, our destinations will be greener, more aesthetically pleasing and more cost efficient.

That’s good news for residents – and visitors !

Beyond the Basics of Sustainability for DMO Managers: Arts

When we talk about sustainability’s triple bottom line – people, planet, profits – it can sometimes seem vague. But DMOs work on practical sustainability issues everyday.

Visitors come to see out environment and experience our culture.  Celebrating, promoting and preserving the culture and heritage of a destination is a task that DMOs can get behind. That is why the Arts Destination Marketing Award –  awarded to DMOs and Local Arts Agencies using arts to support destination marketing – is sustainability at its best. Well done DMAI and Americans for the Arts for recognizing the important connection between arts and tourism.

Better than Sustainability

Sustainable is a pretty low hurdle. How about we work to make tomorrow better than today.

DMO Managers are working on sustainability every day..

“Sustainability” has been described as one of the most “jargony-ist” words of recent times. Because I talk about sustainability a lot, I get this feedback from everyone – students, hoteliers, tour operators and DMOs.  I agree ! The word “sustainability”  is used way too frequently and too carelessly – and it’s too bad – because lost in the “I’m so over this word – sustainability” attitude is the important fact that DMOs are important agents of sustainability.

Imagine working to make the destination the best place it could be – a beautiful environment, people treated well and locals celebrating their unique culture, a healthy economy. Imagine you are doing it to get the best from/for the destination today – and that you are working to ensure the destination community remains a great place to be in the years to come. This scenario doesn’t take make imagination for many DMO managers – it is what they do every day.

So – sustainability and improving the “triple bottom line” – people, planet, profits – is core to the role of a DMO manager. Might be time to update the job description ….