Tourism development and management continue to be at the forefront of global conversations around ways the travel and tourism industry can contribute towards sustainability; specifically with a lens of adaptability, innovation, and impact.
However, discourse around how, when, and to what degree the industry is making positive, measurable progress towards these impacts is still heavily debated.
Which innovations, developments or trends will be most likely to influence the work of tourism sustainability professionals this year, especially linked to destination development and management?
This article reviews and summarizes the most poignant and curious of replies.
Drawing on the overlapping themes in the panel’s responses, we see that our globalized world is very much interconnected, and that many destinations are facing similar issues.
Three key topics emerged from the expert panel responses:
- The need for ongoing comprehensive tourism planning and management
- Effects of climate change on tourism
- Changing consumer behavior and expectations around ethical and authentic experiences
Comprehensive Planning and Management
Overtourism is a symptom of delayed or non-existent management strategies, coupled with a lack of long-term awareness of destination marketing impacts on a destination; it has become a truth that many destinations are facing, as well as desperately trying to avoid. It is no surprise that overtourism was mentioned by most of the experts invited to participate in the panel.
“Issues revolving around overtourism and undertourism are not new developments or trends. They’re formidable challenges that take lots of time, patience, perseverance, and most importantly, political will to address.” – Brian Mullis
It was inspiring to hear that leaders in the industry see overtourism not just as a challenge, rather as a way to diversify visitor experience packages, and as a possibility for new or “under-visited” areas to be explored and developed:
“Overtourism has fully come into its own, and is of course clearly linked to destination development and management. At the same time, there are an increasing number of emerging destinations which remain under-visited. I think we will see an increase in efforts to attract travelers away from the main destinations and towards secondary destinations.” – Peter Richards
Gianna Moscardo shed light onto the “silos” of overtourism perspectives within the industry, suggesting that overtourism research and planning should include a broader approach where visitor experiences should not be the only thing accounted for. To her mind, community well-being and overall host perception are just as important when combating overtourism.
“Much of the academic research discussion to date seems to be driven by a concern for the visitor experience and not destination community well-being… The answer lies, as it always has, in detailed and critical analysis of all tourism impacts, not just crowding.” – Gianna Moscardo
With increased costs associated to destination marketing and management, exploring tourism taxes is very viable for many communities, and potentially underutilized. Taxes allow for tourism initiatives that may not be possible otherwise, such as sustainability projects, and infrastructure to address negative impacts caused by transportation, waste, and energy consumption:
“There is also an increasing trend in tourism taxes (to some extent due to the overtourism issue). More and more destinations are realizing that they can charge the tourist to fund sustainability projects” – Rachel Dodds
Further to Rachel Dodds’ take on tourism taxes, Salli Felton explores the ‘invisible burden’ of tourism on a destination, suggesting that tourism taxes are an option, but not without due care for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation:
“There are many hidden costs, which we call the “invisible burden” of tourism and it is therefore understandable that destinations are now seeking to recoup those costs. Whilst an additional tax seems an attractive option, without actually measuring the invisible burden to understand its nature and scale; without knowing the cost of maintaining destination assets and identifying those at risk; and without properly reviewing current tax structures, any new fiscal policy may miss the mark.” – Salli Felton
In 2018 the UNWTO campaigned for “tourism and the digital transformation” and propelled the industry in realizing the potential of digitization among destination management and marketing. Clearly, technology has the power to transform the industry by helping its players to address key challenges, and by accelerating how destinations manage and engage with travelers:
“We are already seeing the effective use of mobile data to influence visitor flows in some destinations. The opportunity to monitor in real time can ultimately assist capacity management, and with open access to data this could help plan visitor flows and improve supply chain management.” – Fiona Jeffery
“The insistent pressure of growing overtourism will likely prompt more innovation in technological methods for tracking and better distributing large numbers of tourists. We can hope it will also prompt better, more holistic methods of destination management and a decline in the simplistic “more is better” approach, which is still espoused by far too many governments and tourist authorities.” – Jonathan Tourtellot
“Could ‘sustainable travel engagement’ be part of the solution for overtourism? We believe that with the right digital platform which would combine sustainable gamification, community engagement and corporate social responsibility reporting, DMOs and tourism stakeholders could make a real difference in their own destination.” – Philippe Moreau
The challenge posed between tourism and technological innovations is ensuring that the industry stays up to date and trained, in order to facilitate this kind of growth. Inability to understand the data or how to manage the tech programs, software etc. is a hurdle that should be taken into account.
Destination managers are acutely aware of this, and are engaging in discussions around the involvement and progress of such technological advancements within the industry.
“I think more and more destinations are trying to come to grips with visitor flows – from where are they coming and when? I hope that technology and greater access to data can help destinations truly understand this.” – Shannon Guihan
Governance and employment
Not mentioned by many, yet worthy to note, were the responses that spoke to governance and employment. The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest employers worldwide, and offers a range of jobs in several sectors. However, discussions around gender equality, diversity, inclusiveness, and governance best practices are only starting to attract mainstream attention.
We know that women, for example, occupy the majority of tourism jobs globally, though are less represented in senior management positions.
Anna Alaman highlights in her response the “revolution of raising women’s rights voices” and how the #metoo movement and “other social media campaigns can influence more professionals to address gender balance at a destination management level.”
Additionally, Natalia Naranjo speaks to how governance should be a “main topic for the tourism sustainability professionals, and also DMOs and public entities. Governance is a key for social innovation, for local empowerment and development.”
A global crisis of our time, climate change adaptation strategies are slowly being considered within the tourism industry. Not only does climate change affect those who are most vulnerable in today’s social systems (people living in poverty, and marginalized/disenfranchised), but it is changing the way people, communities, governments need to think about experiencing, extracting, and using the natural resources of our world.
Tourism can play a vital role in mitigating the risks and impacts of climate change by shifting the way destinations strategize. This could include initiatives that foster regenerative systems and approaches.
Fiona Jeffery talks about air quality and increased air pollution as a relatable example for tourism destination organizations to explore. There are ways the industry might incorporate environmental concerns, such air quality, into their marketing and management strategies:
“What if consumers could see in advance of booking a holiday what the quality of air was like in a chosen city or destination? Would this influence buying decisions? I think so, and as a consequence this will force local government to think more about the air quality, environmental management, and transportation systems.”
Consequently, or perhaps more realistically, Wolfgang Strasdas questions the direct ‘care’ that travel professionals have in regards to addressing climate change, and the role the tourism industry has in mitigating its impacts.
“[Climate change] is one [issue] that most tourism professionals have chosen to ignore while its impacts are becoming more and more evident. Cape Town, for instance, is a popular tourist destination that I have frequently visited myself. It went through a severe water crisis last year and you see more and more of the beautiful mountains surrounding the city being marred by bush fires. Destinations need to develop long-term strategies to adapt to climate change, or else they may risk severe degradation of their natural tourism resources.” – Wolfgang Strasdas
Interestingly enough, climate change has also created a niche sector of tourism for visitors and destinations alike to capitalize on. The industry is seeing a “traveler urgency” to experience and ‘check off the bucket list’ the attractions that may no longer be there in a couple of decades, or even years:
“[There is] the desire to see threatened or diminishing natural attractions, including glaciers, coral reefs, endangered species, etc. Locations featuring these attractions may continue to experience heightened visitation, simultaneously creating opportunities for increased awareness and resource protection, as well as increased risk of overtourism.” – Kelly Bricker
Climate change is complex and there are no immediate solutions. But it is encouraging to see that sustainable tourism professionals are contributing towards (at the very least) discussions around meaningful ways to include climate change adaptation strategies into policy and management.
Ethics and Authentic Experiences
The ever shifting and evolving tourism industry, spurred by technological advances and globalization, has changed the way travelers behave and how destinations operate. As an industry, now more than ever, we understand a diverse range of motivations for travel, we understand host/guest dynamics, and we understand the environmental implications caused by overtourism and exceeded carrying capacities.
Further, the industry is recognizing the power and increased ethics that travelers are incorporating into their travel plans, and behavior:
“Today, tourists not only want to act responsibly, but also to learn from a destination.” – Maja Pak
“Travelers exhibit increasing concern regarding environmental and cultural impacts, and are more likely to choose low-impact, sustainable travel options. Tourism managers are faced with the expectation to accommodate this shift by making sustainable purchasing decisions, pursuing sustainability certifications, and providing opportunities for travellers to give back to local communities. This is reflected in a rise in the number of consumers: from 65% in 2017 to 68% in 2018 actively seeking out eco-friendly accommodations.” – Kelly Bricker
Pressures and standards to “do better” and to embed socio-ecological best practices into the visitor experience are becoming increasingly more mainstream. Additionally, travelers are not just seeking environmentally conscious products and experiences, but authentic ways to feel, interact, and be in a destination.
Destinations are listening to these demands and are expanding their destination management and marketing to foster social aspects in their planning processes.
Maintaining healthy spaces, customs, and cultural assets for residents in a destination has become a priority within the industry, and is certainly a key trend for 2019:
“For a destination, it is important to live the brand, to run the values of the brand through every act of product creation or communication, by all people in the destination.”- Maja Pak
This is also reflected by stronger care about the rights of the indigenous peoples, who should not be negatively affected by ecotourism, as Masaru Takayama stresses.
Local food and procurement
Trickling into several sectors, sustainable and responsible travel behavior is having a significant impact on culinary tourism. The ethical foodie has a voice, and they are speaking up for what they like!
The importance of local and ethically sourced food is not just a travel trend, but a movement that is impacting communities, economies, governments, and politics.
People are more aware of the large carbon footprint of food production, and people are also realizing that local, fresh and ethically sourced food just tastes better – it nourishes the body, mind, and soul.
This demand for sustainable and local food is also shining light onto the entire life cycle of food production, distribution, and waste, in turn contributing to community economic resilience, and reduced environmental impacts.
“Food waste: many companies are moving forward very proactively but the need to do something on the matter is greater every day…local, sustainable procurement.” – Ronald Sanabria
It is an exciting time to witness the growth and development of sustainable tourism systems and management frameworks. Global sustainable tourism experts are grappling with the daily challenges and complexities of ever changing social and environmental impacts, and to that we celebrate their efforts.
Industry experts are driving sustainable tourism development in a well-informed and socially responsible direction. A direction which responds to the many social, environmental, and economic challenges that – due to our social structures – we feel globally and experience locally.
To read the full responses of the expert panel, please click here.
This summary and reflection of panel answers was written by Genevieve Huneault, Principal Consultant at Social Root Consulting. If you would like to engage with the Sustainability Leaders Project or the panel, please get in touch.