Five questions for destinations to ask about tourism

With tourism showing unremitting growth for the eighth consecutive year, and forecast to continue apace in the coming decades, popular destinations are suffering.

During a recent roundtable event in Buenos Aires, we brought together leading figures from the industry to discuss the issue of overtourism.

If destinations want to get the most out of the tourism industry, and avoid becoming tourist traps, now is the time to ask the following questions…

1. What do you want from tourism?

Economic benefits, of course, but what kind?

Obviously it’s important that revenue stays in the destination, but how can you ensure it is spread evenly around different businesses?

The potential for jobs and employment stretches beyond hotels to the whole tourism supply chain – to excursion providers, craft-makers, conservationists, farmers and many more, all part of the tourism product.

In Croatia, we found that local business owners appreciated being consulted and involved in hotel development, and it led to tourism that was more beneficial to the destination – see our Case Study.

And then there are the costs. If the money flowing in is set against resource depletion, shoring up historical sites, fixing environmental damage and repairing infrastructure, then you are not balancing the books. This is something we set out to assess in our 2016 report Measuring Tourism’s Impact in Cyprus.

2. What kind of tourism do you want?

tourists croatia

Once you understand what you want from tourism, you can look at shaping the sector to meet your needs.

Over the last year, we’ve been undertaking research in Tenerife on Finding the Optimum Tourist Mix, which is about understanding the ‘true’ value of different tourist markets – the distinctive types of tourists who are looking for different holiday experiences.

Most destinations, when asked, would be able to describe the kind of holidaymaker they are aiming for, but all too often this is based who visits at present, or a general idea of attracting ‘high value’ tourists.

Many countries set out to attract large international markets, whereas they might obtain better value through looking at other types of tourism.

Take domestic tourism, for instance, a market that is typically four times larger than international visitors. Domestic tourists may be visiting friends and family, going out for meals together, travelling by car and thus able to make more purchases, yet some destinations are tailoring their product only to internationals.

Make sure you know:

  • Who your current tourists are
  • What their impacts are, positive and negative
  • Who you would like to see in greater numbers, and who in fewer
  • Who is missing (consider whether there are types of tourist who are not currently visiting but who would bring benefits)

One destination that has done an excellent job of answering these questions is Flanders in Belgium (see this WTTC seminar). They’ve identified their market segments, looked at what makes them beneficial or detrimental, and identified who they would like to target, namely the ‘cultural tourist’ and the Meetings, Conferences and Events market. This has helped them make decisions about investment and infrastructure.

3. What are the risks?

Cape Verde turtle

Now you know more about the form your ideal tourist industry would take, and the benefits it should bring, you can consider any risks.

What negative impacts might be caused, should you try to adapt to certain kinds of tourism markets? If you decide to target luxury travellers, and find that they want to play golf, will there be enough water to keep a course green? What might be the effects on your roads, your heritage sites, your delicate natural environments?

To help destinations consider these issues, we developed a framework to identify potential environmental and socio-economic risks in a destination and partnered with TUI to trial it in Sardinia and Saint Lucia.

4. What is this information good for?

pointing at board

The data will be exceptionally useful. For some countries, tourism can be the first, second or third most important industry, and yet it is not always taken seriously because it doesn’t always quantify the value it brings in.

When you have clear figures showing where tourism is adding and subtracting value, you can make a watertight case for your sector and its contribution. This in turn can help with allocating budget to infrastructure and tourism projects.

You can also prove to tour operators, hotels, developers and investors that you’re a sustainable destination, and work more collaboratively to keep it that way.

5. What about the people skills?

Julie Cape Verde guides

One issue for tourism organisations is having personnel with the skills and abilities to undertake the impact assessments that are needed.

If it is not possible to get people with the right skills in house, then destinations need to go to NGOs, external organisations or universities, and find people who can help with this research.

This is why, at the Travel Foundation, we have a dedicated Sustainable Practice team, who work with tourism organisations to build capacity, helping them measure and embed better practice.


To find out more about how we can support you to develop the best kind of tourism for your destination, get in touch.

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