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.
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.
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.
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.