12 January 2020

New challenges in the strategy of tourist destinations

We should start by asking ourselves whether it still makes sense, in general, to strategically plan within a so-called VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). The general success of agile methods is interpreted by some as the death certificate of traditional strategic planning. The underlying logic would be that, within an environment that changes so much and so quickly, it is no longer enough to think in the medium or long term. The only valid approach is trial and error, learning quickly from results and optimising as we go along.

In the case of tourist destinations, in our opinion, such an approach would be a serious mistake. Tourism is a complex phenomenon, based on experience, emotions and the interaction of highly diverse agents, where it is not possible to apply the same business rules as on other sectors, such as software or industrial production. The success of a destination is a consequence of the combined efforts of many factors, which are sometimes hard to explain or even contradictory. The hard fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to position a tourist destination and very easy for it to lose its attractiveness.

In addition, the territorial factor has to be taken into account. Traditionally, the challenges of destinations have been similar. The focus is almost exclusively on them being being advertised better or more than their competitors in order to capture a greater influx of visitors. This panorama has changed completely. Whereas some destinations still strive to achieve a volume of tourists, for others, the main challenge is precisely to avoid saturation and an encroaching social rejection of tourism. In cities such as Amsterdam, Venice or Barcelona, tourismphobia is already too familiar a term.

Within this context, we feel new strategic planning is an essential tool if we wish to guarantee the sustainability of the tourism model. The following are some of the attributes that we consider to be key to a successful new strategy:

  • Having the capacity to base the diagnosis of the destination and its competition on the capture and analysis of big data with highly diverse sources and structures
  • Preparation through a participatory process, with open opinion forums for the authorities, hoteliers, destination activity companies, transportation, complementary products, social agents and associations, as well as researchers and experts in the sector
  • Proposing an effective system for governing the strategy where all participants co-ordinate in order to promote and position the destination. Neither private initiatives nor the authorities can do this alone, but rather they must collaborate
  • Offering a very different and solid view of the destination, as well as action lines which are sufficiently flexible in order to adapt to any changes in the environment
  • Having information systems and indicators allowing the implementation of the strategy defined to be monitored quickly, exhaustively and effectively
  • Taking into account elements of sustainability (environmental, economic and social) along with databased tourism intelligence as factors which are already essential for all tourist destinations
  • Dealing with the key drivers behind each specific destination, for example, flight connections, less dependence on seasonal factors, customer profitability, reconversion of mature infrastructures, etc.

We are convinced that strategic planning that is well executed and takes into account these considerations might not only be a useful tool but could be essential in the future of tourist destinations.

Antonio Viader Farré from Auren Spain

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