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.
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 ….
Tourism is the largest industry in the world – and yet it is still called the “invisible industry”. Well – maybe it isn’t invisible – but it is hidden in plain site. Tourism and the visitor economy is right under our noses – but we don’t recognize it.
In some ways this lack of awareness starts in school. For example, as a school kid, we went on field trips and camps and we often seemed to find ourselves at farms set up to welcome students and show them agriculture. While I learned about the virtues of cows and pineapples ( I lived in Queensland, Australia) no one ever said anything about how visitors (like me) contribute to economic well being. I was a tourist and I didn’t even realise it..
It can come as no surprise that the tourism industry has such a great task to inform policy makers and politicians – not to mention community members – about the value of our work. In most cases we are starting from “scratch”.
Which brings me to the fantastic work of Indiana Office of Tourism Development. Mark Newman, the CEO of IOTD, recognized the importance of building a culture of tourism early in his tenure and worked with educators on the development of a grade 4 curriculum that recognizes the connection between tourism and social studies.
That’s strategic thinking in tourism – honest to goodness !