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.
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 !
“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 ….
At a recent conference one of the speakers reminded the audience that tourism takes place at the acquiescence of the community. I thought the statement was eloquent and expressed an important idea…. but it has been bouncing around in my head ever since.
According to my dictionary, the noun acquiescence is tacit assent or agreement by silence. In the legal sense it is ” such neglect to take legal proceedings for such a long time as to imply the abandonment of a right’. It is unfortunate that so often “acquiescence” is exactly what happens in tourism destination communities.
One of the principles of sustainable tourism is that destination community stakeholders have an active say in the development process. It is interesting that while this principle is applied in developing destinations around the world, it is rarely applied to communities here in the United States. Few CVBs track consumer sentiment toward tourism or reach out to diverse stakeholder groups in developing strategic tourism plans.
So – for the sustainability of tourism and the benefit of destination communities – I will say tourism takes place in destination communities, not with their acquiescence but with their consent ( and I will continue to work with destination leaders to ensure that is, in fact, the case).