ETOA Summit in the Alps 2019: Tourism in Transition

Locals Key to better tourism

  • Popular destinations need to put local communities at the centre of tourism strategies
  • Copenhagen: the end of tourism
  • Holland: Tourism has to rebuild ecosystems
  • Canary Islands: Step change to sustainability
  • Chinese visitors to Europe provide their solutions to overtourism

Destination management organisations, governments and local authorities need to put local communities at the heart of tourism development strategies and consult the travel industry, the ETOA Summit in the Alps 2019 concluded this week.

As The European Tourism Association (ETOA) continues to lobby for well-thought out tourism strategies to prevent tourism becoming as toxic to cities and locals as cigarettes are to personal health, delegates at ETOA’s annual summit were urged to consider the importance of local communities and the ‘liveability’ of destinations, when considering how to make tourism better.

Since ETOA was founded in 1989, international visitor arrivals in Europe have grown by 172% – from 262 million in 1990 to 713 million in 2018 – and residents in many popular destinations have protested as infrastructure is pushed to capacity and local neighbourhoods’ cultures change to accommodate visitors.

Key speaker, former strategist for Wonderful Copenhagen and CEO of Group NAO, Signe Jungersted declared that ‘the end of tourism’ as we know it, echoing Copenhagen’s destination strategy, that evolved from extensive community consultation.

In her presentation ‘Transcending Tourism,’ she outlined how visitors’ aspirations have evolved into becoming ‘temporary locals’. With a smart device in every pocket, each visitor can curate their own individual experiences tailored to their interests. In this way the tourist becomes the ‘un-tourist’.

Jungersted reported on research conducted with residents of popular destinations and international visitors and found views on the visitor economy are becoming increasingly polarised with frequent and starkly different opinions as to what is good or bad in the sector. For example, services often used solely for tourism such as segways have become offensive symbols of ‘the wrong type’ of tourism whereas ‘multi-functional’ services such as bicycles and public transport, which are used by visitors and residents alike, are more acceptable to all.

Jungersted says, there is a need to develop ‘hybrid’ services where tourism and non-tourism products merge – “we need to rethink tourism to think how the locals experience it.” Using the example of Absalon, a project developed by the Tiger-stores founder Lennart Lejboschitz, an old church has become a community hangout in Vesterbro in Copenhagen, where locals and visitors enjoy meals, drinks, bingo, table tennis and music events in informal surroundings.

Jungersted concludes that through strategies focusing on better experiences for locals, 67% of residents in Copenhagen have no problem with tourism in the city and are positive about welcoming even more visitors.

Holland and the Canary Islands also outlined how they are radically rethinking their tourism strategies.

Holland: building new tourism ecosystems

Jos Vranken, Managing Director of NBTC Holland Marketing said that the travel industry is at a t-junction. In the past, public and private sector interests were aligned in the pursuit of a ‘multiplier model’ and the pursuit of greater numbers and unrelenting growth. Now, there is a greater disconnect between the two. He believes that the travel industry will have to ‘build new ecosystems as cherished relationships cease to exist’. As is widely known, Holland is no longer looking to multiply visitor numbers but instead seeking to ensure that the benefits of tourism are shared. He also said that tourist boards will need to transition from having purely promotional functions to ones that include development and management, and emphasised the need for better strategic governance for the sector

Canary Islands: Adding value through sustainability

Sergio Moreno Gil, Vice Minister for Tourism, Industry and Commerce in the Canary Islands, agrees tourism is in transition. Growth to the islands since 2011 has grown by 23% thanks to the success of micro-segmenting campaigns targeting niche interests. The islands are totally reliant on tourism economically, but now the islands want to rethink their strategy to sustainably develop new tourism product and experiences by harnessing their biggest resource – nature.

Chinese FITs providing their own answers for overtourism in Europe

Roy Graff, Managing Director of interactive digital marketing agency Dragontrail, who markets Europe to Chinese travellers told of the steep rise in independent travel amongst Chinese consumers – with 70% in 2018 labelled as free and independent travellers. Graff highlighted that some of the peak travel periods for Chinese consumers are during the usually hard-to-fill European shoulder seasons of February and October with many exploring their own personal interests, leading to off-the-beaten track destinations becoming more popular. For example, the Canary Islands opened the ‘Sanmao’ route in Gran Canaria after a Chinese writer from Taiwan lived there in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA said: “Tourism, like many things which are vital and vibrant, can sometimes be unedifying. It is more than money. Tourism underpins the cultural life of a city. It is the lifeblood of museums, galleries, theatres, operas, cafes, restaurants and shops. It defines and sustains how cities see themselves.”