Author: Emilija Zagere

mass tourism is human pollution grafitti

Destination Success – the Factors and Actors

Destination success is often synonymized with its popularity and high visitor numbers. Places like Paris, New York, Rome, and Bangkok are destinations that rush to mind… but are they convincing examples of destination success? What really defines a destination’s success, and who is responsible for it? 

Tourism is a dynamic and highly complex sector that manifests itself differently in every global destination. While there is no set formula for destination success, successful long-term tourism development must begin with sustainability concepts. Well-established tourism organizations, supportive local governments, engaged local leaders, and a shared vision of sustainability and innovation are what most effectively foster destination success.

Tourism offers tremendous opportunities for destination development, though it is important to remember that every development avenues incur a cost, and negative impacts may never be entirely avoided. For tourism to be considered a successful development tool, enough value must be generated and distributed. Additionally, all associated costs must not exceed the long-term stakeholder benefits.

 

mass tourism is human pollution grafitti
Image courtesy of CNN travel

 

What is the Role of Tourism Management and Governance?

Tourism success largely depends on strategic management by governments and destination management organizations (DMOs). In order to build a strong sector foundation, reap its economic benefits and mitigate the negative impacts, these entities must establish frameworks for public and private sector cooperation. Moreover, they should enact regulations for environmental and cultural heritage protection, develop infrastructure, and formulate clear plans and policies for sustainable tourism development. Most importantly, destinations must learn from their own and other industry mistakes by monitoring, reflecting, and improving current strategies. 

It is fundamentally important not only to engage all destination stakeholders in the planning, development, and destination management process, but also to distribute the benefits. With adequate education, training, guidance and financial support, locals can find their way into the sector and improve their quality of life while fostering continuous sector growth. As destinations often have external investors, their interests must be carefully balanced with the expectations of local stakeholders to ensure further financial support for the sector and overall economic development. 

 

beautiful blue island in palau sustainable tourism
Image courtesy of Lonely Planet

 

Small vs. Big tourism: How do you Define Destination Success?

In 2019, 2.28 billion international tourists visited destinations around the world. Do higher volumes of tourism mean greater benefits for the destination, or is it exactly the opposite? For a lack of better and more reflective metrics, tourism success is often measured in tourist arrivals, without providing many indications about the negative impacts. A common belief is smaller-scale alternative tourism (community-based tourism, backpacking, or eco-friendly tourism) is the only way to sector sustainability. Smaller-scale tourism, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the impacts are smaller or less negative. It may actually result in a reduced developmental contribution to the destination. 

Mass tourism, on the other hand, is broadly considered the opposite of good tourism. The truth however is it is not going anywhere, and solutions to make this area of tourism more sustainable are what shift the whole sector towards sustainability. Experts seem to agree – package-holidays and all-inclusive resorts may offer the answers the industry has been looking for. Designed responsibly and innovatively, all-inclusive resorts have the potential to erase some of the social and environmental strain caused by mass tourism by taking the pressure off crowded destinations. 

The true threat to destinations everywhere remains exceeding their individual physical, social and environmental carrying capacities. Rather than considering small vs. big tourism, studies say the necessary response to possibly apocalyptic impacts of uncontrolled tourism development is slow and steady tourism. It is not about maximum demand and rapid increase in visitors. It’s about fostering growth at a pace that destinations can afford, and choosing quality over quantity. 

 

Namibia - Africa’s tourism success story built on nature conservation (National Geographic)
Namibia – Africa’s tourism success story built on nature conservation (National Geographic) Image courtesy of The Guardian

Tourism Development and Commitment to Sustainability

Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword, an abstract concept, and a way to greenwash the tourism product. With increased accountability, societal pressures, and shifting consumer behaviors and expectations, destinations must think not only about how to attract tourists, but also how to do it right. Considering destination success strives from visitor numbers and expenditure, long-term successful tourism growth must focus on boosting the positive and minimizing the negative impacts. 

The key to a thriving destination is addressing how tourism can benefit the local community by increasing economic prospects, supporting socio-cultural systems, and maintaining a healthy environment for local communities. A well-thought-out tourism strategy is crucial. Today’s environmental, socio-cultural and financial considerations will foster successful destinations of the future.

Social Impacts

Tourism cannot exist in isolation and greatly affects the social structures of a destination. Communities must be fully engaged in the development of the destination to ensure success, and, if handled correctly, can ensure the strengthening of communities and cultural preservation. Heavy tourism presence at a destination disregarding local, social and cultural constructs may result in acculturation, loss of identity, and authenticity – arguably some of the main reasons for visiting a destination in the first place. Authentic experiences are the product of community pride that reflects the destination and people. 

Negative social impacts are impossible to avoid entirely. Visitor behaviors, conduct, and oftentimes just the sheer amount of visitors may cause social resistance and conflict. In extreme cases, it may lead to fear for visitor safety, in turn greatly damaging a destination’s reputation and popularity, jeopardizing industry success. Ultimately, the key to social sustainability in tourism is mutual respect and understanding. 

 

Helsinki tourism
Helsinki – sustainable travel made easy (National Geographic) Image courtesy of GQ

Destination Success for the Environment

Interacting with unique environments and natural heritage are other main reasons for visiting a destination. Tourists want to swim and snorkel in a clean ocean and amid coral reefs, hike in stunning mountain environments, or stroll through well-preserved city centers. More importantly, natural resources, national parks, and heritage sites need to be conserved not only to maintain visitor interest in a destination, but also to continue supporting local communities and their livelihood. That will often depend on their surrounding ecosystems, particularly in rural tourism destinations.  

Rapid tourism growth and associated infrastructure development may result in soil erosion and loss of habitat. Without proper nature conservation plans, pristine natural spaces and agricultural land run a high risk of being replaced by hotels, airports, and golf courses. Overwhelming visitor numbers exceeding a destination’s carrying capacity may lead to air, water, and noise pollution, overuse of a destination’s water resources, and increased waste.  

If managed consciously, tourism can be a force for good and positively contribute to conservation and environmental protection while also representing an important source of financing for this purpose. Before identifying the right tourism conservation models for the destination, it’s important to identify the main threats to the natural habitats. Finding an equilibrium between protecting natural resources, wildlife, locals and supporting business interests is where long-term destination success lies. Failure to do so may lead to irreparable environmental degradation that, in extreme cases, may lead to a temporal or permanent ban on visitors to a destination. 

Economic Benefits from Destination Success

Tourism has the potential to bring money into communities, contributing to poverty reduction and fostering economic growth, especially in developing countries that often rely heavily on tourism for economic development. However, the way tourism currently operates is often harmful. Today, from every 100 USD spent by a tourist, it is estimated that only 5 USD stays in the local economy. The rest of the profits go into the pockets of political elites, external shareholders, and tour operators. With insufficient funds, destinations often cannot offset the negative impacts associated with tourism development, leading them to question the effectiveness of tourism as an economic development tool. With exceeding tourist numbers, degrading environments, and difficulty with destination infrastructure maintenance, a destination risks losing visitor interest and valuable tourist dollars. 

Additionally, foreign employees are hired in the industry, taking away job prospects for locals that would be needed to ensure the funds circulate across the region. The industry must also refrain from importing tourism products and instead utilize what’s available in the region to allow local communities and businesses to get a bigger piece of the tourism pie. Successful destinations should therefore focus their tourism economy on local providers and workers, to prevent leakages and ensure more revenue remains actually in the country. 

Interested in how we can help you attain sustainable destination success? Contact us to learn more.

Written by Lena Eckert, Alicia Winfield, and Emilija Zagere

Destination branding – more than just a logo

What exactly is destination branding?

To start things off, it is important to first understand what a brand is: what is the purpose of destination branding, and how it is different from destination marketing? A brand is more than just a logo, a color scheme, and a slogan.

Your destination brand is a reflection of your culture and its people, history and heritage, traditional and modern ways of living, built and natural environments. It wrapped by the totality of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts that your guests have about your destination. It is the foundation of your marketing strategy and your most important marketing tool. 

Destination branding, commonly referred to as place branding, is the process of identifying, crafting, and nurturing the unique identity of a destination. It is building a story around the key elements, values, and the destination proposition, orchestrating consistent messaging that highlights just that and, ultimately, forming a reputation in the eyes of its visitors. In other words, destination branding is all about who you are. It is the focal part of destination marketing that, in turn, defines how you communicate and deliver your message to the right audiences. 

Top examples of destination branding

Good example destination Branding is Northern Ireland

Tourism Northern Ireland – Winner of The 2020 Travel Marketing Awards, Category Destination Brand of the Decade, image courtesy of Monotype.

Great example destination Branding is Northern Ireland

‘Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit’ brand focusing on experiences, heritage and belonging, courtesy of Monotype and Genesis

Estonia destination branding

Courtesy of Lantern.  Estonia’s Repositioning and re-branding strategy focuses on telling a story about a lost paradise and experience-first destinations that allow travelers to make the most of their time. 

Why is destination branding important?

Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, travel and tourism was one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world (UNWTO). While the global economy and the travel sector aim to recover safely, eager travelers are anxiously waiting for their time to travel again. Though it may still be unclear what exactly tourism will look like after COVID-19 recovery, and when that may take place, industry experts say the tourism sector will be among the last to recover

Not only are thousands of destinations planning and preparing for reopening, but undiscovered destinations are also establishing themselves every year joining the competition for the valuable tourist dollars. In such a saturated marketplace, carefully crafting a brand story that will resonate with the key audiences and potential visitors will allow your destination to stand out.

Differentiation is the ultimate objective of branding. Effective destination branding that stands the test of time while remaining competitive, dynamic, innovative, and agile to ever-evolving industry trends and consumer behaviors. It is what holds the key to successful destination development and tourism growth.

How to brand your destination successfully

Building your destination brand should focus on the uniqueness of the place and its surroundings. Consequently, the first step to building a destination brand, according to the World Tourism Organization and European Travel Commission, should be an audit of the destination to include the emotions and perceptions associated with it. Followed by that, it is important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the destination as well as identify your target market. Understanding your target audience will allow you to effectively articulate and deliver your destination’s unique selling point throughout the various touch points of the customer journey. A thorough competitor analysis should be carried out to identify a possible market gap, while successfully positioning and differentiating your destination.

It is important to mention that stakeholder involvement is an integral part of destination brand development and the branding process. A brand’s success is directly linked to the acceptance and support from local residents, and the public and private sectors. You should consider all these entities as brand ambassadors that will directly impact the perception of your destination in the visitor’s eyes. After completing an inclusive and comprehensive destination audit, you’ll be off to a great start to build your destination brand. 

Practical tools, such as the brand pyramid, can help define the destination and brand identity by considering all core components of your destination. The foundation of your brand pyramid lies in the rational attributes, the characteristics of a destination, and its tourism offer, i.e. the activities, the landscape, or the weather. Next, consider the emotional benefits and think about how the visitors feel about the destination and what feelings they take away from their visit. The third layer of the pyramid is the brand personality, the main characteristics, and attributes of the brand, including the question of how the brand should be perceived and described by the audience. Is your destination calm and charmingly intimate, or is it wild, vast, and rough? Perhaps it is a combination of the two? Furthermore, the brand positioning describes the uniqueness of your brand, led by the question of what makes the destination stand out from its competitors. Finally, the very top of the brand pyramid is the brand essence, the heart of your brand, and what wraps all other components and makes them into one.

After identifying all the components of your unique destination brand, it is time to build an engaging, empowering, and passionate brand story that will resonate with locals and visitors alike. Your story will be the backbone of your tourism marketing plan, strategy, and integrated marketing communications. Choosing the right visual tools and communication mediums will be essential in effectively and consistently communicating your brand promise, reaching the right audiences, and achieving your marketing goals. It also supports building relationships based on trust, and growing your destination popularity. 

Solimar acknowledges the importance of destination branding and provides more insights about this topic within our expert produced Destination Management Organization (DMO) development course. The course provides a deeper dive into the intrinsic components of destination and marketing organization planning, development, branding, and marketing.

Are you a destination who needs help with your destination branding? Contact us today!

Written by Lena Eckert and Emilija Zagere

Destination development planning

The concept of tourism traces back more than 4,000 years when early civilizations across the world began travelling for commerce and religious purposes. While some say modern day tourism finds its roots in the 17th century, when traveling around Europe became a popular pastime among aristocrats, the industry saw its most monumental growth during the second half of the 20th century. From just 25 million tourist arrivals in 1950, today more than 1.3 billion people worldwide engage in tourism with expected increase to 1.8 by 2030, and a staggering 4 billion predicted by 2040. Tourism is now one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors accounting for more than 10% of global GDP and supporting more than 300 million jobs worldwide. 

While tourism offers great potential for overall economic development, proper planning is necessary to reap the benefits of this powerful ever-expanding sector. Destinations must first carry out purposeful, strategic, comprehensive and, most importantly, inclusive planning considering not only how the outside world will see the destinations but also the ethical coalitions between the civil society, businesses and the government to support sustainable growth and long-term success of tourism. Whether a small island state or modern metropolis, successful destination development is by no means an easy task. Effective planning must account for financial as well as environmental and social implications, supporting local livelihoods, protecting destination heritage, bridging the gap between the host and guest, avoiding uncontrolled development all while staying agile and able to quickly adapt to shifting global economic trends and consumer behaviors. 

While the trajectory that the tourism industry will take in the coming months and perhaps years is still unclear due to COVID-19, now is the time to plan and adapt destination planning and development strategies. 

Destination development planning
Destination development planning

HOW to start planning for your destination development?

At Solimar International, we recognize the importance of developing tourism in a way that provides the greatest benefits for all stakeholders while conserving the natural assets for future generations. Strategic planning is critical to determine the scale and type of tourism best suited to the destination yet the process needed to reach this goal is not always straightforward.

Our world is home to thousands of destinations that each attract travelers for their unique features and assets. Diversity is a strength that we must undeniably safeguard – but there is no secret recipe. The first step is therefore to carry out comprehensive destination assessments to understand the issues, identify the key stakeholders, determine the touristic potential and related threats to set the right goals and objectives in line with economic, social and environmentally sustainable practices. The GSTC Destination criteria offers a great starting point for building responsible, fair, equitable and sustainable destinations.  

Tourism planning, however, is never a one-off effort. While it should reflect a strategic long-term direction, it must always remain flexible and leave enough room for adaptation to unforeseen circumstances, changing trends and competition. Think about current consumer behavior changes such as the rising ecological consciousness or the ever-increasing presence of technologies in all aspects of our lives. Inspired by the concept of ‘smart cities’, in recent years much attention has been paid to ‘smart tourism destinations’, emphasizing the importance of incorporating modern technology for sustainable, accessible, improved tourism experiences and, ultimately, increased competitiveness through process automation, demand forecasting, crisis management and productivity increase. Check out European Capital of Smart Tourism initiative to see destinations across Europe adopting smart tourism principles and placing them at the forefront of tourism development. 

One of the two 2020 European Capitals of Smart Tourism - Malaga
One of the two 2020 European Capitals of Smart Tourism – Malaga

Above all, the essence of successful and sustainable destination planning is inclusivity and all stakeholder representation in planning and decision-making processes to ensure the well-being and empowerment of local residents. Learn more about the visioning and planning workshops Solimar has held for destinations such as Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail or Timor-Leste, to develop a shared vision for destination planning. 

WHEN is the right time? 

The rapid sector expansion over the past decades has sent destinations around the globe on a development race competing for tourist dollars in hopes of economic prosperity. Before jumping on board this rapidly moving train, however, there are a number of factors that need to be considered to ensure the feasibility of long-term sustainable tourism development. 

In a comprehensive study, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) analysed the readiness for tourism growth in 50 cities around the world. Destinations 2030 outlines 75+ factors from tourist attractions and accommodations, to infrastructure, space, connectivity, as well as tourism and overall economic development policies. The consideration of these and other factors is essential to determine how prepared a destination is for tourism growth and resulting challenges. It is important to remember that the destination success potential doesn’t always depend on growing numbers of arrivals but instead hides in efficient resource management to ensure the industry supports local livelihoods. 

Meanwhile, as important as knowing when to start planning for your destination development, it is equally important to know when to hit the brakes. Uncontrolled tourism development may result in waste mismanagement and environmental degradation, rising property prices, traffic and overcrowding, disturbance and social unrest among local residents and overall exceeding of a destination’s carrying capacity. Destinations around the world such as Venice in Italy, Hội An in Vietnam, Machu Picchu in Peru amongst many others are struggling with over-tourism that greatly threatens the long-term sustainability of the industry.

Crowding at Machu Picchu, courtesy of 7 Summits Project

WHO should lead the effort?

Through implementation of policies, regulations and appropriate investment decisions, governments have an important role to play in mitigating these negative impacts of tourism development. Good governance will establish appropriate administrative structures and frameworks for private and public sector cooperation, regulate the protection of heritage, assist in education and training, and will identify clear developmental objectives.

Still, tourism development potential can be hindered by inadequate support from the state, particularly in Global South countries. Moreover, development priorities and agendas will change with every political election cycle, which often shifts the tourism development direction increasing the importance of Destination Management Organizations (DMO) for tourism planning.

A DMO is a strategic leader in a destination – it leads and coordinates activities of different actors and organizations to work towards a common goal. By acting as a mediator and advisor, the DMO brings together resources and expertise to give key stakeholders the tools they need to succeed by developing strategic partnerships between the government, residents, local businesses and NGOs. A DMO will bridge the gap between the residents and visitors to unlock the economic benefits of tourism through collaborative efforts. 

Are you interested in learning more about Solimar’s strategic planning process? Over the past years, we have been supporting many destination planning projects and have recently launched The Institute for Sustainable Destinations, an online training platform designed to support a global network of leaders in developing, managing, and marketing sustainable destinations.

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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