Careful what you wish for. Managing the tourism influx

May 31, 2019

The subject of excessive tourism has been a hot topic over the last several years. Recent stories of destinations trying to get a handle on this issue such as Thailand closing its Maya Beach on Phi Phi Leh island for two years in hopes of restoring its beauty from its present pollution issues, Amsterdam and Barcelona residences revolting against tourists and now even closer to home, Quebec City and Banff National Park dealing with an over abundance of in-season visitors. The World Tourism Organization has been on record predicting a 4% annual growth rate in the worldwide visitor economy for the last three years and does not see this rate abating anytime soon. The UNWTO anticipates there will be 1.8 billion travellers by 2030. The industry as a whole has been working hard at increasing travel levels for the last three decades. Traditional travel destinations have led the way but emerging destinations have quickly caught up. Countries such as China, Vietnam, India, South Africa, Namibia, UAE, Croatia, Panama and Columbia are now part of mainstream travel destinations. The industry has seen this success in part due to the ease and lower costs of travelling, increased wealth worldwide, the online success of travel and countries better understanding the economic benefits of tourism and increasing investment into it.

 

So, what are destinations to do? First of all, the industry needs to STOP using the term ‘over tourism’. It stigmatises the industry in a negative light and holds the narrative hostage. Destinations cannot really stop tourism growth, however, they can certainly play a leading role in managing it. The management of a tourism destination goes far beyond simply marketing the destination. Access, sustainability, the nature of the welcome, its experiences and infrastructure all play an active role in destination management. Destination Marketing Organizations, or Destination Management Organizations to better describe them, are the linchpin in leading these initiatives in close cooperation with industry and civil authorities at all levels.

 

Two examples of this come to mind, the Netherlands and Canada.

 

The Netherlands, a country slightly larger than Vancouver Island had 18 million visitors in 2018 and estimates it might double that number by 2030. Amsterdam, of course, takes on the bulk of those visitations which puts pressure on the city’s residences and infrastructure.  Having identified a need to tackle this influx of traffic NBTC Holland Marketing, Netherlands national tourism agency, commissioned ‘Perceptive 2030’ a roadmap to better manage tourism in the Netherlands and benefit its citizens. The plan’s theme is:

 

“Tourism as a means to an end. This vision aims to develop the Netherlands into a future-proof, liveable, lovable and valuable destination. We see tourism as a contributing factor to the solution of consequential social issues and challenges that impact our prosperity and welfare, in order that every Dutch citizen will benefit from tourism by 2030. The most important themes are: Enhance the Dutch identity; Improve the liveability; Realise our sustainability objectives; Create employment opportunities”

 

Within this plan NBTC Holland Marketing emphasizes the need to manage its growth in a holistic way which encompasses a national policy, joint actions and an investment agenda as well as measuring its initiatives. Looking at the whole of the country as opposed to highlighting only its better-known attractions, the Netherlands hopes to continue benefiting from its visitor economy while managing its flow and having other parts of the country reap new rewards.

 

The Canadian government has also recently adopted the visitor economy as a leading sector for the country’s prosperity which include a multi-level and multi-disciplinary approach to tourism growth. Leading tourism stakeholders along with the country’s official tourism agency, Destination Canada, have been leading the charge over the last decade to diversify our visitor economy from our traditional Moose, Mounties and Mountains approach to one of a multi-faceted strategy. With Canada’s main tourism hubs such as Vancouver, Banff, Toronto, Quebec City and Montreal hitting record capacities, other lesser known part of the country are gaining popularity due in part to their own realization that tourism is an economic driver. Destinations within a few hours drive from large centres have been the first to benefit from this. Nevertheless, other area’s have also adopted the visitor economy as part of their growth, highlighting what was already there or by adding new attractions and/or infrastructure.  Case in point……Saskatoon has seen record numbers of visitors discovering the city’s charm, revitalized waterfront and new world class Remi museum of fine arts. Nova Scotia has tapped heavily into the golf market with two world class golf resorts, Fox Harb’r and Cabot Links, both hours away from a major centre. The city of Victoria has doubled down on tourism and working with its port authority is now a major cruise ship hub on the west coast and looking to grow that segment even further. Quebec’s Eastern Townships has rallied around its laid-back nature, culinary farm to table and cycling haven offerings to also set record visitation levels. Of course, one cannot exclude the biggest tourism story of the past few years, Fogo Island Resort located in one of Newfoundland & Labrador’s most remote areas. Talk about taking a holistic approach to tourism development. 

 

Tourism isn’t what it used to be. Industry, destinations and their communities need to continue to take a broad and cooperative approach moving forward to insure we can maintain and properly manage a sustainable and healthy visitor economy. We no longer need just the 7 nights-7 cities visitors. It’s no longer about bringing more visitors; it’s now about going after the right visitor with the greatest potential to experience what any particular region has to offer.

Tourism isn’t what it used to be. Industry, destinations and their communities need to continue to take a broad and cooperative approach moving forward to insure we can maintain and properly manage a sustainable and healthy visitor economy. We no longer need just the 7 nights-7 cities visitors. It’s no longer about bringing more visitors; it’s now about going after the right visitor with the greatest potential to experience what any particular region has to offer.

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May 31, 2019

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