A major challenge for the tourism sector in 2016 and beyond: concentration and dispersal

International tourism arrivals increase steadily year after year, while there are few corners of the globe where tourists haven’t reached. As tourists flood into historic city centres and remote islands causing bottlenecks and environmental damage, how can the tourism sector avert disaster and turn the rising tide of tourism into an opportunity?

Despite my relative youth, over the 15 years that I have worked in the tourism industry I’ve attended tourism forums, conferences and seminars of all shapes and sizes and in many corners of the globe. A complaint I’ve heard frequently is that decision makers in government don’t take tourism seriously enough in spite of the contribution it makes to a destination’s economy or social development. Well 2015 has seen plenty of reasons for decision makers to pay closer attention to tourism growth, and not always for good reasons.

During the summer months in Europe in 2015, hardly a week went by without news headlines in theThe Observer - 25 July 2015 mainstream press about city centres that were becoming ‘unliveable’ due to crowds of tourists waving selfie sticks blocking up the streets, local bakeries closing down to make way for souvenir shops, congestion from tour buses, and noisy visitors renting unlicensed holiday Source -Travelweekly 15 July 2015apartments.

Perhaps that’s just a case of #Firstworldproblems?

Consider destinations around Asia that have seen tourist arrivals increase by double-digit percentages in the last five years but have lacked the coordination and resources to meet the basic needs of their own residents, let alone demanding visitors!

Given that the rise in global tourism is set to be driven by young travellers, especially from countries in the Asia-Pacific region, how will the world’s most popular destinations cope with the rising tide of tourists, and how can destinations still ensure they give travellers the high-quality experience they expect?

For the past six months I have been working on a major study for the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and Toposophy to find out the answers to these pressing questions.

Following the success of last years report The Rise of the Young Asian Traveller into the profile and travel trends of Asian Millennial travellers, PATA decided to go a step further and look at how a deeper understanding of this key group of consumers could shape tourism policy more usefully. Asian travellers’ rapid shift from group to free and independent travel (FIT) provides a growing opportunity for secondary destinations to attract this group, especially since these may offer more of the authentic experiences that Millennials crave.

The report, which is due to be released within a matter of weeks is called ‘Stepping Out of the PATA-Youth-report-cover_ProudSponsorCrowd, Where the Next Generation of Asian Travellers is Heading and How to Win a Place on Their Travel Itinerary’ (pre-order it here). The research for it has been generously sponsored by Visa Inc. and promises to add valuable insights on the behaviour of Asian Millennial travellers, while pushing the debate forward on how the tourism sector can help enthusiastic young travellers to explore further while easing pressure on already-crowded visitor attractions.

Main features:

  • Unique consumer research from Millennials in 13 outbound markets across Asia on their attitudes towards trip planning, city visits and going ‘off the beaten track’.
  • Data from the PATA five-year forecast to show how international arrival arrivals will affect APAC destinations in the coming years
  • Data and opinion from 14 market-leading tourism organisations, travel brands and influencers on how to set out an effective dispersal strategy.
  • Recommendations to public and private sector organisations on how to create more effective and rewarding products that encourage dispersal for Asian Millennial travellers.

I have long believed that the subject of tourism dispersal touches on so many vital areas for the tourism sector: infrastructure, use of resources, innovation in marketing, efficient destination management and spreading the economic impact of visitor spending further. That is what has made this such an exciting project to work on. Furthermore, I think that the destinations that are starting to tackle these very questions are showing destination management and marketing at their best. It’s going to be fascinating to see how more DMOs tackle this question in the coming years, because if they want to see tourism continue to grow and provide a sustainable return (and not be beaten back by politicians seeking a quick solution), then a proper strategy for dispersal will be essential.

Please stay tuned for more details on how you can obtain the report and where it will be presented, or follow me on Twitter at @genctraveller

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