October 2019

Tourism is always changing.  Trends develop, fashions change, generations have different goals.  These all alter the way destination management organizations (a fancy name for tourist boards, visitors bureaus and similar bodies) promote their destinations.  Effectively, how they ‘sell’ their areas to potential visitors. However, things are changing there too.

Many DMOs around the world are realizing that it’s not enough to promote their area to new visitors. More than that, it’s not even appropriate to follow the same methods of working that they have for years. It seems that today’s travelers – tourists – want a genuinely authentic experience. They want to visit a place because they want to feel like a local and want to live like the locals do.

That in turn means that the locals must want to welcome visitors.  They need to be enthusiastic about where they live and be willing to share. Unfortunately, if the locals fail to see the benefits of tourism and are unable to reconcile those benefits with the potential downsides, then the concept won’t work.  All that happens is that the residents resent the tourists and become less, rather than more, welcoming.

So, we are seeing the development of ‘destination management’,  electively stewarding the area to ensure that long term residents get the benefits of their area first and as a result actively encourage others to come and visit. The aim is not only to get travelers to visit once, but return multiple times perhaps even one day moving to the area permanently.  All this adds to the local economy (good for locals), increases employment (good for locals) and keeps the destination fresh and attractive (good for everyone).

Of course this involves agreement between the local populations and the tourists that each respects the other. There needs to be understanding that both groups must share the destination and its resources. Those resources must not be exclusively for one group or the other.

One area in Micronesia had their children create a ‘contract’ for tourists where they agree to respect local customs and to, in their words, ‘leave nothing but footprints that can be washed away by the sea’.  They even stamp visitors passports with the contract and get the tourists to sign it.

Other cities around the world organize tourist style events that are only open to locals, so that the residents can have fun being tourists in their own town.

Areas with high tourism numbers are developing cellphone apps that show both visitors and locals where areas are crowded, and suggesting other attractions and routes.  That again helps everyone out.

The results are dramatic, as locals become ambassadors and evangelists for their home town, actively encouraging guests to visit. Tourists begin to feel that they are part of the local community and not just temporary visitors, resented by those that live there.

The process to achieve this involves the DMOs first talking to their local population. They find out what the locals like about their home, and what they would encourage visiting friends and family to experience. The tourist industry then engages with the residents to let them share the tourists experience by offering ‘local’s rates’ and special events for residents. The management and stewarding process then works to reduce overcrowding, and spreading the visitor peaks across the year if possible.  This may involve finding new markets or developing different activities. For examples some tourist boards have worked with adventure tour companies to create mountain biking operations or ATV trails.  SCUBA divers have been encouraged to visit artificial reefs, and farmers have set up farm stay vacations.

All this is working both across the country and worldwide. It’s a case of trying to think differently and working to make the tourist destination attractive to those that live there as well as those who visit. 

It’s a different process to simple promotion and marketing. It involves the whole industry, (accommodation providers, attractions, tour operators, restaurants etc.) working with the residents to create a genuinely great place to live and visit – for everyone.