How to Develop an Effective Tourism Strategy for your Destination
“Why do we need another plan?” We hear this question a lot at Solimar when asked to help a tourism destination develop a national, regional, or destination specific sustainable tourism strategy. We know that most of the destinations we work with have a cabinet full of previous studies and plans that were developed but never implemented. So, we understand and empathize with tourism stakeholders that may be reluctant to spend more time in consultation meetings to discuss the challenges and actions needed for the tourism industry. As a sustainable tourism consulting firm, we believe strongly that every tourism destination needs a tourism strategy, or a long-term tourism plan that unites the industry and the government to puruse a shared vision for sustainable tourism development and management. But the question is how do you develop a tourism strategy that is implemented and doesn’t just end up on the shelf?
Based upon our tourism planning and implementation experience in more than 500 destinations around the globe, we know that tourism strategies often fail, but rarely because of a lack of good ideas. In our experience, we believe the process is just as important as the end tourism strategy. We see the keys to successful strategic tourism planning include:
- Buy-in and consensus, from the wide range of public and private sector stakeholders that will be needed for successful strategy execution. Solimar uses a variety of tools and proven approaches for achieving that buy-in and consensus.
- Detailed action plans that clearly define timelines, responsibilities, and the human and financial resources that will be required for plan implementation. Unlike most tourism planners, Solimar implements most of the tourism development strategies that we develop. That experience gives us valuable perspectives in defining action plans that are time-bound, practical and achievable.
- A focus on demand-driven solutions. While policy frameworks, training, and infrastructure development are all important components of a comprehensive tourism development plan, increased demand is the primary and ultimately the only sustainable driver of more frequent and affordable airlift, product diversification, and improved service delivery.
Solimar’s sustainable tourism strategic planning process is centered around helping tourism stakeholders answer 4 main questions:
- Where are we now? – what is the current situation with our tourism industry? How is the industry performing? How do we compare to our competition? What are our tourism assets? What tourism services are available for visitors? Who is responsible for tourism policy, management, marketing, investment, etc? How is the industry organized? But most importantly – what are the main challenges that are preventing our industry from reaching its full potential? Through a careful review of tourism statistics, previous studies, online research, and interviews and surveys with tourism stakeholders we are able to develop a tourism sector analysis or a tourism situation analysis that sets the foundation for the tourism strategy.
- Where do we want to go? – the vision statement is one of the most important components of a tourism strategy. The objective of the visioning process is to build consensus around a shared vision for the future of the tourism industry in the destination. Solimar uses a variety of different approaches to create a shared vision but this is mainly achieved through a participatory planning workshop where stakeholders come together and think into the future and describe a tourism industry that they would like to see for their destination. How has tourism changed from today? What is improved? What remains the same? Asking tourism stakeholders to describe their desired future of the tourism industry shows that while stakeholders have many different opinions about what needs to be done and what should be prioritized, they often share a common vision for what they want tourism to look like in the future for their destination.
- How do we get there? – Once a shared vision is agreed upon, the next question is how the vision will be achieved and how best to organize action plans to be implemented. While every tourism destination is unique and has its own challenges and priorities, most tourism strategies tend to prioritize 5-6 main pillars of the strategy that we call strategic objectives or strategic goals. These tend to be focused around improving Policy/Coordination, Marketing, Product/Destination Development, Workforce Development, Sustainability and other topics that flow from the participatory planning process. After defining these main pillars, the next and most important step of the strategic planning process is to define the specific strategies to be implemented to achieve these goals. Individual strategies are the main components of the document and what provides the direction for the industry to realize the vision. Through stakeholder interviews and outcomes from the tourism planning workshop these strategies are identified and grouped under the corresponding goals. A description of each strategy is important to help everyone understand what is being proposed and why. The last and very important step is the creation of detailed action plans. These action plans are developed through working groups that include the public and private sector, conservation and community organizations, and other stakeholders. The key to action planning is aligning the action plan updating and reporting with the government’s own annual work planning and budgeting.
- How do we know we’ve arrived? – Indicators are an important tool in a strategic plan to define quantifiable targets that can be used to measure the results of the strategy implementation process. Indicators should include not only economic performance, but also sustainability and other policy focused metrics that demonstrate progress towards realizing the vision and communicate progress.
A wise man once said “Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination”. Tourism is not the type of industry you want to allow to set sail without a clear direction and someone at the helm. Sustainable tourism planning provides an important tool to bring tourism stakeholders together and define in their own terms how tourism can and should contribute to a desired future for their destination and community.
If you are a tourism manager or someone interested in learning more about Solimar’s strategic planning process, click here for an informational video that discusses our methodology in greater depth.