Last month we examined some of the challenges facing the tourism industry in 2016 – see Part 1 here. This month we examine related challenges with which tourism leaders may have to contend in 2016, writes Dr. Peter E. Tarlow.
It should be noted that although the material in both the February (Part 1) and March (Part 2) editions is treated as separate challenges, there is often an interaction between them, and these challenges are not stand alones but rather part of a total whole.
Be prepared for economic instability
We are now seeing the stock market on a roller coaster and coupled with low gas prices, there is a sense of ennui and foreboding. Last year’s feel good combination has now changed to one of wait-and-see in the United States, Latin America and Europe.
Experts indicate that there are multiple clouds on the horizon. These include an unstable European economy, recession in countries such as Brazil and low employment rates, and a slowing down of the Chinese economy. It is essential to remember that although unemployment is low in the US, this figure does not necessarily reflect a strong economy, but rather that millions of people have ceased looking for work. In this world of false recoveries, low unemployment does not translate into the willingness on the part of the public to travel more.
View the world carefully
The political world will continue to be unstable and when instability hits, people are less likely to spend money on luxury items such as travel. Political instability is now a major concern in Africa and Latin America, with the Middle East, Europe, and North America open to terrorism attacks and Latin America still suffering from high levels of crime and drug trafficking. Furthermore, no one knows how Europe’s refugee crisis will play out and what the consequences of increased crime will be on European tourism. Brazil, along with much of Latin America, is suffering from both issues of crime and issues of health and sanitation.
Be aware of the lack of trained personnel
Because many tourism areas have grown rapidly there are too many locations where there is a dearth of skilled labor. Tourism needs people who are both inspired and well trained. Yet, too few people in the tourism industry speak multiple languages, are proficient in high tech computer skills or have a good knowledge of statistics and how to utilize them. This lack of education and training creates not only numerous financial losses but also creates lost opportunities and an inability to adapt to new challenges.
Low Salaries, recruitment and retention
Many online and front-line workers receive low salaries, have low levels of job loyalty, and change jobs with a high level of rapidity. This high turnover level makes training difficult and often each time a person leaves, the information is lost. To make matters even more challenging these are often the people with whom visitors come into contact. The formula tends to guarantee low job satisfaction and low levels of customer satisfaction. This situation has resulted in the lack of availability of skilled manpower in the travel and tourism industry, one of the largest, if not the largest, employment generators in the world. If tourism is to be a sustainable product then it needs to turn part-time jobs into careers without pricing itself out of the market. If the travel and tourism industry hopes to continue to grow it will need trained personnel, and a willing and enthusiastic workforce at every level from managerial, to skilled workers, to semi-skilled workers.
Nonsensical regulations and over regulation
No one is arguing that tourism should be an unregulated industry, but often governments’ desire to regulate trumps common sense. All too often decisions are made so as to avoid a law suite or negative media coverage. Too many regulations are reactive to problems that are minimal, while refusing to be proactive regarding growing problems. Often the desire to over-regulate puts tourism businesses in jeopardy and fails to help the consumer.
Lack of adequate and truthful marketing
Too many locations tend to either exaggerate or simply fabricate. The lack of truth in marketing means that the public not only loses confidence in the industry but investors fear being burnt. Marketing has to be both innovative and true. Tourism is a highly competitive industry and requires good and innovative marketing that captures a place’s essence while making people aware of the locale’s tourism offerings.
Lack of amenities or over charging for amenity use
In too many locations around the world there is a lack of simple amenities. From clean and potable water at hotels to well maintained public rest rooms. Finding simple public services in these locations is a constant challenge. Signage is often unintelligible to foreign tourists, parking turns an outing into a nightmare, and as hard as it seems to believe there are all too many ‘good quality’ hotels that charge for internet service. In many locations the hotel’s in-room phone service is outrageously expensive even for local calls. The lack of amenities or over charging for their usage destroys the sense of hospitality and turns guests into mere customers.
Need to develop or update tourism infrastructure
Around the world tourism suffers from poor infrastructure.These infrastructure challenges range from substandard docks and ports of entry to modes of transport, to urban infrastructure such as access roads, electricity, water supply, sewerage and telecommunication. As airplanes begin to carry more people, airports will face not only the problems of handling large numbers of arriving passengers but will also need to find ways to unload luggage faster, and transit people through immigration and customs lines more rapidly. The lack of infrastructure will also impact issues of security as governments attempt to ferret out potential terrorists while creating a warm and welcoming arrival experience.
Airline industry will continue to be the part of tourism that visitors love to hate
Air travel has gone from elegant to pedestrian. Today passengers are crowded onto planes as if they were cattle, and treated as if they were criminals rather than honoured guests. Airfares are so complicated that passengers need a college course to understand them, and the once popular airline loyalty programs continue to degenerate. Service is often so bad that when flight attendants smile, passengers actually thank them. Unfortunately the “getting there” has become part of the “being there”, and unless the tourism industry can work with the airline industry to change attitudes, be less mercenary and more flexible the entire industry may suffer. When poor air service is combined with infrastructure problems the combination may in the long run be deadly and “staycations” may over take vacations.
Nothing works if visitors are afraid and insecure
The spread of terrorist groups throughout the world, and what seems to be the “pandemic du jour” are major threats to tourism. Tourism must learn to create not merely security and safety but ‘surety’: the interaction between the two. This means that locations without TOPPs (tourism policing programs) will suffer and eventually decline. Private security and public security will need to learn to interact and work well not only with each other but with the media and marketers as well. The old and outdated adage that security scares visitors is more and more being replaced with the adage that the lack of security provokes fear among visitors. Cyber crime will continue to be another major challenge the travel industry faces. Tourism cannot merely hobble from pandemics and health crisis to the next. Also, unless the travel and tourism industry can protect visitor privacy and lower the incidents of fraud, it will face an ever greater and daunting challenge during 2016.
About the Author: Dr. Peter E. Tarlow publishes a monthly ‘Tourism Tidbits’ newsletter. He is a founder of the Texas chapter of TTRA, President of T&M, and a popular author and speaker on tourism. Tarlow is a specialist in the areas of sociology of tourism, economic development, tourism safety and security. Tarlow speaks at governors’ and state conferences on tourism and conducts seminars throughout the world. For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org