Category: Tourism Development Consulting

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.

Content is at the heart of any marketing strategy. Content informs the target audience about a subject and it is the engagement piece that lures them to action.

Without content there is no message.

This week’s DMO Development Program session discussed Tourism Information Systems and the digital strategies for managing the content inside a tourism destination.  Tourism information relates to any and all content content pertaining to your destination. This might include factual information, descriptive marketing copywriting, maps, images, and videos. More recently, online marketing has become the primary driver of this content.

Content management relies on an active and seamless network of content generators and content “curators” – those that manage the content flow and that can edit, reframe, and distribute the content to appropriate audiences. Tourism Information Systems help content managers more easily conduct this process. Systems like Travel Oregon’s Online Tourist Information System (OTIS) or Australia’s Smartest Tourism Destination clearly lay out the content curators need to promote specific aspects of a destination, making navigating and promoting different points of interest easy and effective.

Categorizing Content

Content creation part of a destination management organization’s marketing strategy, can be broken into two different categories:

Static content is the foundation for online properties (such as a DMO website) and key informational gateways (such as GNTA’s Georgia.Travel website). Static content is basic, rarely changing information that might include destination descriptions, the destination’s history, currency, product descriptions, and relevant rules and regulations.

– Dynamic content is constantly evolving and is generally driven by what is relevant within a certain time period. Dynamic content might be news about new attractions, information on deals or sales, or reactions to current trends. The Lewis and Clark Trail Interactive Map or the World Heritage Journeys Map are examples of dynamic content, in which places can be nominated in order to be added to a map and guide. The National Geographic’s Geotourism Mapguides also demonstrates how this content can be dynamically utilized.

Numerous computer-based tools and softwares can be used for collecting, creating, storing, processing, and distributing content, regardless of whether it is dynamic or static. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Saas – Software as a Service, cloud-based servers and databases to make it easy to deploy information
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for tourism suppliers/industry partners are a platform to keep demographic information on visitors/leads (ie: Salesforce, Hubspot, Microsoft dynamics 365, Simpleview)
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) are used to catalogue images and marketing assets. (ie: Crowdriff and Mediavalet)
  • Reservation Management System (RMS) are designed to receive bookings online (Booking.com, Adventure Bucketlist)
  • Marketing Automation Software (MAS) allow DMOs to build editorial calendars and content pillars (ie: Hubspot)
  • Social Media Management Softwares are built to keep all social media posts in one place (ie: Hootsuite)

Tourism Information Systems: In Their Own Words

As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program, the Republic of Georgia’s tourism leaders were fortunate to sit-in on two expert interviews focused on Tourism Information Systems. The first DMO expert interview was Cecilia Suvagian from Travel Oregon. When asked how she defines tourism information systems, Ms. Suvagian responded: “Anything that helps the visitor plan their trip and find things to do on their journey. Questions such as ‘Where am I going?’, ‘What am I going to eat when I’m there?’, and ‘Where am I going to stay?’ are all important to have a better sense of the visitor perspective.”

Ms. Suvagian added that properly evaluating the DMOs goals and partnerships is a critical first step in creating a strategy in order to develop relevant content pillars and ensure that the stories are shared and promoted by the destinations stakeholders. “If you are working on a system where you will be sharing the data, be sure to bring in those partners early. Their input and feedback will be critical to your system actually being able to be used in the way you imagine it” Cecilia said.

The bonus interview for this week’s session brought two guests: Natalie Durzynski and Amrita Gurney from CrowdRiff, an online software platform and web-based tool for destination marketing. Solimar asked why visual images are so important to destination marketing, to which Ms. Durzynski replied, “Communication is happening due to visuals. Visuals get people to stop and pay attention,” Natalie said.

The underpinning of all DMOs marketing activities should be the identification, development, presentation, and distribution of content that is informative and engaging for potential travelers. A well-planned and executed content management structure is crucial to ensure that relevant, high-quality and engaging content is made available at opportune times and disseminated via the appropriate platform.

UNWTO defines a destination management organization as the leading organizational entity which facilitates partnerships with various authorities, stakeholders, and professionals to achieve a unified mission towards a destination’s vision. Destination management is a broad and holistic management process that includes managing marketing, local accommodations, tours, events, activities, attractions, transportation and more. In terms of both supply and demand approaches, the destination must try to draw attention from both visitors and private tourism markets. A destination’s competitiveness and attractiveness comes from the use of effective, sustainable strategies and is based upon a balance of interests of all stakeholders inside the tourist destination. Within any tourism destination, the public sector designs the nation’s core identity with the mandate of national growth and advancement of the entire community; the private sector delivers the desire for future development with different goals and accountabilities; and the destination stakeholders are the entities connected together by travel experiences or through the tourism industry.

The DMO emerges as a key player in the development and management of tourism at the destination level with various functions. Depending on the potential needs, these functions may include strategic planning, implementation of the destination tourism policy, tourism product development, crisis management, quality improvement and assurance, workforce development, and sustaining the cultural heritage of the destination. A destination with an effective management plan usually possesses a high capacity for undertaking new innovations and trends, while being more resilient to potential challenges and disruptions–something more important than ever in the time of COVID-19.

Some advantages of having an effective destination management organization are listed below: 

  • Establishing a competitive edge: Developing the destination’s attractions and resources in a way that highlights its authenticity and characteristics will enable it to thrive. Ensuring positive visitors’ experiences, allowing tourists to push their limitations and venture outside their comfort zone, will deliver an excellent quality experience in a destination. 
  • Ensuring sustainability: The World Travel and Tourism Council encourages responsible tourism practices to preserve destinations for visitors and locals alike. Income generated from tourism can stimulate the destination’s development of new infrastructure and transport services, upgrade the skills of rural workers, and provide funds for natural, cultural, and historical resources to be managed in a more sustainable way. As a result, visitors will receive more authentic and engaging experiences–all while knowing they are having a positive impact on the destination. Additionally, good destination management can help avoid social and cultural conflicts and prevent tourism from negatively affecting local values.
  • Building a tourism culture in the destination: Communicating with the local community in a destination and listening to local residents’ voices is necessary to sustaining a tourism destination in the long term. DMOs are responsible for engaging local communities to ensure that tourism development is a mutual benefit between tourism stakeholders and local residents in the destination. This strategy is also vital for DMOs to preserve the cultures of destinations.
  • Limiting the impact of overtourism: The World Tourism Day Forum organized by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) and George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies defined and focused in on “overtourism” as “Tourism that has moved beyond the limits of acceptable change in a destination due to quantity of visitors, resulting in degradation of the environment and infrastructure, diminished travel experience, wear and tear on built heritage, and/or negative impacts on residents.” DMOs should help destinations raise awareness about the negative impacts of overtourism and manage the growth of tourism responsibly and intelligently.
  • Building a strong brand identity: DMOs increasingly realize that the value of a destination brand is strongly linked to the value of the destination. Without diversifying the destination’s tourism sources, it is almost impossible to understand who the target market is and what that market needs. Therefore, brand identity is an essential driver to implement successful marketing strategies to the target market. By consistently conveying brand loyalty, tourists regularly return to the destination and become “free advertising” for a DMO: sharing with friends the value they saw in a destination, far beyond the time they spent in it.

Solimar assists destinations take a strategic approach for the better management of a destination. Read more about how Solimar can help your destination use tourism for good through customized destination management

 

 

In July 2013, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the managers of Rwanda’s parks and tourism assets, contracted Solimar to assess the feasibility of creating an independent organization to take on management of the country’s parks and tourism assets as well as create a business plan for the proposed entity.

RDB is a government organization with the mission to transform Rwanda into a dynamic global hub for business, investment, and innovation. As such their focus is on economic development across all sectors of Rwanda’s economy. The RDB recognized that they needed to take a new approach to management of the country’s parks and tourism assets outside of their existing structure and had formulated a concept to establish a new organization to achieve this goal.

After an initial assessment, Solimar spent several months conducting a feasibility analysis of RDB’s concept. During this phase, Solimar worked extensively with RDB staff and other stakeholders in the tourism and conservation sectors to tackle a series of questions and create a common understanding of the concept proposed by RDB.

The major questions included: what did RDB and local stakeholders want for the future of tourism and their national parks and how did they see it being sustainably managed and successful for both conservation and the national economy. Stakeholders involved included tourism industry leaders and conservation organizations.

These conversations and Solimar’s analysis eventually led to a proposition, that RDB would transfer management and operations of two of its three national parks (the third being already independently managed by African Parks Foundation) and tourism assets to an independent organization, ‘The Rwanda Parks and Ecotourism Trust,’ that would be owned by RDB but able to operate independently to manage the parks and tourism assets on behalf of the country.

The feasibility report was used as a template for RDB and other stakeholders to review and comment, and then for the creation of a business plan, which provided the rationale, strategy, financial projections, and an implementation plan for the creation of the new organization. The proposed ‘Rwandan Parks and Ecotourism Trust’ will, if approved by the Rwandan Cabinet, be set up as a corporation under RDB and aim to increase efficiency and returns while remaining a leader in conservation and high quality ecotourism.

We are happy to announce that the innovative business plan Solimar created with our Rwandan partners was approved by the Senior Management of RDB in September, 2014 and the recommendations in the report will be submitted to the Rwanda Cabinet for review and approval. If approved, Rwanda will establish a new and innovative model for park management, conservation and tourism in the region.

“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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