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.

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