Editor's note: For an updated take on our most recent experience at the WTM London, check out our interview with the team here.
From overtourism to dinnertime conversation about diversity in the travel sector, our team got together to compare notes from WTM London 2017.
Now that we're recovered from WTM London, here are some key takeaways from the conference and how tour and activity operators can adapt these lessons to their businesses.
1. "Overtourism is not responsible tourism."
Overtourism was the hot topic of the conference, dominating many discussions and sparking the most feisty debates at the UNWTO Ministers' Summit.
Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UNWTO said that while we're living in "the age of travel.. managing this unstoppable growth is a challenge". According to Mr Rifai, there are 4 things to note about overtourism:
- So far, overtourism is a problem in mature markets and developed countries. It hasn't been an issue in developing countries.
- Overtourism is connected to seasonality and it rarely happens all year round.
- It commonly happens in destinations that are popular with cruises arriving for a few hours.
- The issue is commonly aggravated by and blamed on "platform tourism services" or the sharing economy as we know it.
He continues to challenge the tourism industry to create real value in the local communities, and that "jobs alone are not enough, charity is not enough, paying back in CSR is not enough".
"Overtourism is the opposite of responsible tourism" - Inge Huijbrechts, VP Responsible Business at Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. 🤔 #WTMLDN— TrekkSoft (@trekksoft) November 7, 2017
To tackle this problem, the public and private sectors need to work with local communities, so that locals can see the true value of having people visit their destinations. Some strategies include:
- Spreading the demand, not just throughout the year, but also encouraging visitors to travel further away from busy tourist attractions to quieter regions where tourism is underdeveloped.
- Measuring the impact of tourism on communities, beyond dollars and cents, to look at the true value tourism has on a community. We're talking about social and societal value. Is there any? If so, what is it and how can we optimise it?
- Engaging with local communities and giving them a voice at the table, not just the governments and big corporations.
At the end of the day, "we can no longer build 5 star hotels in 3 star communities", said Mr Rifai. Things need to change.
2. Tours and activities are still not engaged
While the 90 minute debate mostly revolved around hotels, cruises and the infamous Airbnb among other things, I was surprised that no one really brought up the vital role of tours and activities can play in combatting overtourism.
During the debate, Elena Kountoura, the Greece's Minister of Tourism, explained how popular summer destinations like Santorini have stayed open all year round, allowing tourists to visit 365 days. Apart from convincing local accommodation providers to get them to stay open all year, she also mentioned the innovation local operators have demonstrated by creating products that attract visitors to Greece regardless of the time of year.
Drawing from Greece's rich culture and history, local operators have created products around religion, history and philosophy which can be enjoyed throughout the year, rain or shine. The country has also tried to attract a larger portion of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions, or MICE, market to their many destinations.
3. APAC is growing and so is outbound travel
As economies in Asia Pacific continue to grow, travellers from APAC also become more affluent. According to the panel of speakers at WTM, this represents a huge opportunity for the travel industries in America and Europe.
"But the problem is many people from the West have not been to the East - they do not understand it" said Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, Head of Department Tourism & Hospitality and Director of eTourism Lab at Bournemouth University. To bridge this gap and to help operators understand the cultures in the East, he says "we need a buffer, someone who understands the West but who also experience the East... International students are the best for this."
He alluded to the fact that international students possessed an understanding of the East, but also knew how to translate that knowledge to a Western context.
4. Chinese travellers want more authentic experiences
By 2030, experts are predicting that "2 billion trips, not people, will take place... and many of those will be repeat visitors", said Wolfgang Georg Arlt from China Outbound Tourism Research Institute. The need for better quality services will be greater than ever.
"Chinese customers want authentic experiences and operators want to attract customers who are interested in the local culture" - Wolfgang Georg Alt talks about new opportunities for European operators at #WTMLDN— TrekkSoft (@trekksoft) November 8, 2017
"At the moment, 10% of Chinese citizens travel, that's 140 million people," Mr Arlt continues. There are more women than men travelling, most are between the ages of 30 to 49 years old and they live in Tier 1 cities. Remember that these travellers are time poor, money rich.
Chinese travellers are also increasingly independent as they take more trips abroad and get accustomed to the cultures and values of the destinations they travel to. This means that they're looking for practical tips on travel, content that is educational and adds value to their trips abroad.
To reach them, operators will have to "curate word of mouth" according to Roy Graff from Dragon Trail, a digital marketing agency. "It doesn't have to be sophisticated - being present (on a Chinese social media platform) with a simple photo of your business card is a great first step."
Key lessons for tour and activity operators:
- Innovate, innovate, innovate like your life depends on it. When it comes to overtourism, giving tourists a good reason to take that extra 3 hours to get to your destination, or to visit you in a less popular season. When it comes to attracting repeat visitors, like those from China and the rest of Asia, the "standard" package isn't going to work anymore. What else can your destination offer?
- Travellers want to learn about your local culture so stop giving them the edited "fancy" version. An authentic experience means giving your customers a glimpse into the life of a local, and that means the good and the bad. It's time to be honest and open about your way of life, your traditions, your society, your politics, your beliefs.
- Content is king, but only if you know what your audience wants. Travellers from Asia, like travellers from the West, want to learn more about the local culture and travel off the beaten path. Operators who want to reach them stand a good chance by producing and translating content that offer practical tips (like travel visas, or the best car rental company).
- You don't need to spend a tonne of money on marketing to the Chinese market. If you're interested in getting on social media in China, check out WeChat to start with. Alternatively, you can look into getting your tours and activities listed on China's largest OTA - CTrip.
"There are a lot of opportunities.. You don't need an Eiffel Tower to attract Chinese travellers, you just need to understand them." Incredibly informative talk by Wolfgang Arlt from @COTRI_Outbound. #WTMLDN— TrekkSoft (@trekksoft) November 8, 2017
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