The global travel and tourism industry is far from static as evidenced by the number of travel trade challenges that have become constant problems for the industry, writes Dr. Peter E. Tarlow.
The recent stock market ups and downs are a real indication of the turbulence that may impact tourism in 2016 and present new challenges to tourism professionals around the world.
Here are some of the challenges and a few suggestions on how to overcome them:
High Taxation on the Tourism Industry
There is a mistaken belief that visitors and tourists do not pay taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead tourists are some of the highest taxed and under represented people in the world. We only have to examine an airline ticket, rent a car, or stay at a hotel to realise how much we spend on travel.
These taxes not only add a great deal to the cost of travel, but they have also become nuisances. For example, departing from many places requires an exit payment, and in all too many other locations visas are nothing more than an additional way to victimise tourists. Because tourists are generally not citizens of the places that they visit, they have no political voice. However, the local members of the tourism industry can act as their voice. Tourism, as with any other product, has an economic saturation limit and if taxes become overly burdensome local tourism businesses will see a reduction in their profits.
Increase of mass tourism resulting in straining tourism infrastructure
Many places around the world have seen large numbers of tourist arrivals but are simply not prepared to handle the influx. Tourism is much more than merely selling or marketing. There has to be a product and the product must be composed not only of the attraction or activity, but also the personnel who deliver the product. This means that if the number of visitors is greater than the capacity of a location to absorb these visitors, the locale will suffer numerous problems.
Often too many visitors to a destination that is ill prepared for non-sustainable numbers creates a sense of tourism euphoria in the short term, but introduces long term tourism problems that may become deadly to the sustained health of a tourism industry. An easy check to see if a particular tourism product’s infrastructure is over extended is to determine the percentage of visitors who wish to return. If few visitors desire to return, then this may be an indication that the price-tourism structure continuum is reaching unsustainable limits.
Airports not adept for modern tourism
Perhaps the biggest problem exists in the realm of airports. Many airports are simply not equipped to handle a large number of passengers arriving at the same time. This lack of infrastructure combined with often poorly trained personnel (or personnel who simply do not care) creates long lines and unpleasant memories. Tourism officials need to remember that first and last impressions are key components in their marketing efforts.
Local Infrastructure problems
Too many tourism destinations are not prepared for tourists. They lack good sanitation facilities and water treatment plants. Likewise both roads and sidewalks are not well maintained, creating hazards not only for the local population but also for the visitor population. It is essential that local governments take into consideration that a good tourism environment also impacts the local culture and environment. Heavy taxes with poor road and street quality are sure not only to upset citizens but are a warning sign that tourism may be headed toward future problems.
Customer service is key to a healthy tourism industry
The least expensive and most important part of the tourism experience is customer–visitor interaction. Smiles and a friendly handshake or nod of the head cost nothing and can change a negative impression into a positive one. Unfortunately tourism personnel often forget that the visitor is their employer and that when visitations cease so do their jobs. Too many people who work in tourism are civil servants who cannot be fired. Job protection needs to be a reward and not a right. When there are no consequences for bad behaviour or rudeness on the part of tourism personnel, not only is the product’s reputation diminished but so too is the quality of the tourism offering.
Providing quality customer service is an ongoing challenge for many parts of the tourism industry. Although it is the least expensive challenge to face, it has proven to be one of the hardest challenges to meet and overcome.
Below are some suggestions to help face these problems.
Develop a tourism vision
You cannot begin to create infrastructure if you do not know what form of tourism your locale desires. Not every form of tourism is correct for every locale, and no locale can be all things to all people. Think through what forms of tourism best meet your community’s needs and how tourism will add to the quality of life for your community. Once you have the vision of what type of tourism you desire, you can then begin to analyse if the vision is realistic and obtainable, and finally what obstacles stand in the way of creating this vision.
Most tourism entities cannot control what governments choose to do when it comes to taxation, but the industry is not powerless. Do everything possible to ease the taxation burden and to make payments as easy as possible. For example, include airport, bus station or seaport entrance and exit fees in the cost of a ticket. Forcing visitors to go from one line to the next in order to depart wins the local tourism industry few friends and creates a negative final image of the locale.
Simplify currency exchange laws and procedures
Tourism can produce a great deal of hard currency for any particular location. However, when exchange centres such as banks and hotels overcharge for the purchase of local currency, there is a tendency to go to the black market, not to respect local laws, or put oneself in danger. Post rates of exchange and where currency can be exchanged legally and at what times. Post prices whenever possible in both the local currency and in an international currency such as dollars or euros, and Chinese yuan.
Seek out-of-the-box solutions
The bottom line is that no matter what the problem may be do not give up. Be creative, smile and remember that tourism is all about turning challenges into new and exciting opportunities. Find new partners, for example seek the aid of law enforcement, the local school boards, or hospitals to create new solutions to old problems.
Part 2 will be published in the March edition.
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