Last week The Place Brand Observer team attended World Travel Market in London, which – while not as large as ITB Berlin – is a key meeting point for tourism professionals.
Traditional highlights of the event include the Global Trends Report and the Ministers’ Summit (last year’s topic was destination branding, followed by this year’s focus on how to deal with terrorism).
The event also celebrated 10 years of responsible tourism dialogue at WTM, a topic which World Travel Market has been actively engaged in for almost a decade, thanks to the pioneering work of responsible “travelpreneur” Justin Francis, Professor Harold Goodwin and the charismatic Fiona Jeffery. Jeremy Smith wrote a good summary here of the topics will likely dominate responsible tourism discourse during the upcoming 2017 UN Year of Sustainable Tourism Development.
Below our key takeaways from WTM – trends and challenges which we consider particularly relevant for destination developers, managers and marketers.
Tackling the toughest issues destinations face
Especially noteworthy the keynote presentation by Doug Lansky, who – like others before – made the following observation to illustrate the massive shift in the tourism industry: “The world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property. The world’s largest taxi company, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content.”
The potential negative impact of this Sharing Economy phenomenon for destinations is considerable, but so are terror attacks and unfavorable media coverage and online reviews. Together those are right now the issues most likely to affect the perceived attractiveness of tourist destinations, threatening their reputation and competitiveness.
What can destination developers, managers and marketers do? Luckily, Doug Lansky in his presentation didn’t just pose questions but also offered ideas for solutions. Here’s what to keep in mind for 2017:
Terrorist attacks – react properly
Across the world, terrorist attacks have been one of the most discussed topics of 2015/2016. The Paris attacks a year ago resulted in a significant decline in hotel searches at the destination.
However, Doug points out that, statistically terrorist attacks are not a major threat. Rather, they are the most emotional. The question is how to react properly in order to avoid loosing potential visitors.
Doug’s advice for destinations: Rather than stopping tourism advertising altogether, target it to more resilient markets. Reduce your marketing communications aimed at the nervous tourists. “Know your bravest customers. Keep advertising to them. Do not drop prices”.
Uniqueness – benefit from word of mouth effect
Build a unique product – this is how the whole tourism industry should think. Unique and strong products will bring your destination a word of mouth effect. Don’t try to be and offer everything to everyone. Doug emphasized that a niche product is stronger and makes a destination more resilient. How can destinations leverage their uniqueness?
The right direction is to provide guidelines for the private sector to assure a destination brand is not fractioned. In other words, instead of old-style destination marketing, use a strategic destination branding approach which includes place making, management and brand communication.
Use big data to measure tourism success and manage destination
We’ve been looking at the wrong metric in tourism for a long time – how many visitors we have. The real metric is revenue. “We don’t want to know anymore how many tourists we have, we want to know how much money we earn”.
Big data can help destinations measure the right metrics. It can also help you manage tourist flows and spreading visitors during the whole year. For instance, offer time ticketing at tourist attractions and optimize queues and overcrowding – areas and issues that destinations can and should manage. Offering tourists better quality products will bring destinations more money.
Word of mouth – let users tell about your destination
Visitor experience design is a crucial factor in achieving word of mouth effect. “Create a great product and let users share it”. Every touch point with visitors matters. Even if the hotel is great and you provide a great range of activities, the experience may be spoiled by a huge line up with no air conditioning. By enhancing the visitor experience during their whole journey (such as removing bad experiences, like line ups), a destination is more likely to receive positive reviews and able to build or maintain a favorable online reputation.
Below the keynote presentation by Doug Lansky – well worth watching:
Airbnb and Overcrowding – How to manage visitors
Overshadowing the whole event was the issue of overcrowding. For city destinations in particular, overcrowding has become a real headache, often with Airbnb made out as a main culprit and responsible for the deteriorating livability in inner city neighborhoods of popular destinations, such as Barcelona.
For Jordi William Carnes, CEO of the Barcelona Tourism Board, the problem isn’t Airbnb and similar portals per se, but their global approach, which doesn’t accommodate for local requirements, especially regarding security, transparency and fiscality. In his view – and most destination leaders will agree – it is the city which should decide the number of visitors it can host, and not accommodation suppliers.
On the same topic, Anja Hartung Sfyrla, Head of Business Development at VisitDenmark, reported that Copenhagen didn’t face the same kind of Airbnb impact thanks to its policies to regulate short-term rent. And the Danish government is coming up with a new plan, to cover the issue of taxation.
While Airbnb & co. are keen to create more demand for their services and to open up new destinations for “authentic” local experiences, city destinations are responding by limiting supply: putting the brakes on locals’ enthusiasm to rent out their places to visitors and making sure that those short-term rental accommodation offers are subject to the same tourist taxes as hotels.
Another approach is to use technology and free market principles to reign in on overcrowding and the resulting loss of livability, quality of experience and public health. A range of software solutions are being developed right now to assist with this, and presented at trade events such as the 2016 Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona this week.
Steps to take:
- Figure out the carrying capacity of your destination. Example: Cinque Terre, a destination which is selling tickets to visit the city
- Use timed-ticketing system (to eliminate waiting)
- Use an API for sales and to show availability of attractions, such as Bandwango’s mobile passport technology (http://bandwango.com)
While at the moment destinations are busy addressing issues such as overcrowding from the supply side, it is the demand side which is likely to take center stage in 2017. Still a bit blurry but clearly visible on the horizon, virtual reality is going to shake up travel and tourism for years to come – a new wave of excitement, opportunities and disruption, which might bring new problems but also solutions and ways to tackle some of the most pressing social and environmental issues linked to travel and tourism.
With thanks to Natalia Ferrer Roca and Tanya Makarova for sharing notes and contributing to this summary of key insights from World Travel Market in London, 7-9 November 2016.
Featured image: Doug Lansky on stage at World Travel Market 2016, ExCeL London