One of the most powerful aspects about tourism is that it is an industry that everyone in a destination can participate in. Whether they know it or not, everyone from the local bus driver to the hot dog vendor on the corner is contributing or benefiting from the tourism industry. In a mature market like Vancouver, most businesses recognize that they are part of the tourism equation and most have found a way to participate. The local tourism board, Tourism Vancouver, has a very strong marketing presence and works strongly with stakeholders to promote businesses of all types including attractions, tour operators, and restaurants. In fact, in a market like Vancouver’s, it can be difficult to introduce new marketing initiatives that potentially compete with the work of the tourism board, because it is already quite effective.
In emerging markets the tourism boards are often underfunded or quite new and the stakeholders are few and far between. This opens up opportunities for technology companies to provide solutions that help bring much needed marketing to stakeholders but also provides the tourism board with an effective means of aggregating and distributing products and services from their stakeholders. Obviously, this can only be done in markets where some sort of technology infrastructure exists. In South Africa for example, one main challenge is access to reliable and fast Internet connectivity. In some areas, even those around major cities, the Internet connections are equivalent to a 56K modem (or worse). For a Web 2.0 company, that means dealing with speeds equivalent to those in the late 1990′s. For those regions that do have infrastructure however, it means that small independent businesses now have access to a whole host of new online tools that they can use to build their businesses. The key is that tourism boards, who are considered the trusted partners in most regions, must help to educate their stakeholders about these opportunities.
In less than a week I’ll be speaking at the Online Revealed Conference in Niagara Falls. The reason I mention this is because the conference is designed to be an educational experience for tourism boards in Canada and is a model of what, I believe, other regions around the World should be doing. Firstly, training the trainers is fundamentally important for tourism boards because they are the ones who have the access to the local stakeholders and because they are more likely to have success in educating their members than any commercial entity. Secondly, conferences like this act as a forum for members of tourism boards to come together and share best practices. In my opinion, the old days of treating every other destination in the World as a competitor are long gone. Like every other successly aspect of the tourism industry, each destination needs to focus on what makes them different from the destination next door. Those differences are driven as much by geographical conditions as it is by the people, the culture, and the experiences that potential visitors can have at the destination. Until very recently, it has been very difficult and time consuming to aggregate those experiences, activities, and attractions. Thanks to new technologies there are now options for gathering this hard to find data and to engage stakeholders in meaningful and rewarding marketing opportunities.
I hope that this year will be the tipping point for many tourism boards. With the current economic climate and the affect that this is having on tourism Worldwide, I am expecting that many boards will be looking at new and innovative ways to add value to their stakeholders, finding ways to automate their processes, and finding new ways to generate local tourism revenues. I expect that in times like these, there will be many more tour operators and suppliers coming up with new and innovative products and services.
*Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuliobertorini/ Creative Commons.