Destination Promotion

The dawn of the internet, falling airfares and low-cost carriers, improved Destination promotion, and awareness on a worldwide stage, mean the issue of ‘overtourism’ is coming increasingly to the fore. Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism discusses the issues that accommodation providers may face and how to overcome them.

With news of resident protests in Barcelona and Venice over the number of tourists, the concept of overtourism is increasingly pertinent. Many residents the world over are raising concerns for the protection of special sites, complaining against sky-high housing prices as visitors seek second homes, and expressing fears over rising levels of pollution, as millions of visitors flock to popular sites each year. It is an issue which is consistently downplayed, but one which the tourism industry must get to grips with, with sustainable tourism strategies that balance income and economy with longevity and visitor experience. Ignore it, and the risk is that short-term commercial gains will be obliterated by long-term reputational issues.

2017 is the United Nations year of sustainable tourism and a report by Euromonitor earlier this year highlighted the practical opportunities available to businesses to create a long-term, sustainable future. The report highlights, among other key trends, that the combined weight of local activists with city and tourism officials may see the introduction of more and more sanctions to limit tourism and improve the long-term sustainability of destinations, and that businesses can boom or bust by being the right side of the trend. Barcelona is tackling the issue with a halt on licences for new hotels, alongside a ban on change-of-use permits for holiday lets for example, while Santorini has capped the number of cruise visitors to just 8,000 per day. Mount Everest, Machu Picchu, Cinque Terre and Zion National Park are similarly all introducing visitor caps, in a move which is seen as an undesirable, but necessary course of action, telling of the failure of other management strategies in recent years.

The defined purpose of sustainable tourism is to maintain the economic and social advantages of inbound tourism, while mitigating the negative impacts on the environment and the visitor and resident experience. Aside from capping visitor numbers, which is seen as a last resort for many, emerging strategies include widening the profile of the destination, or capping the sharing economy of homes. Amsterdam is a pioneer of both strategies, placing limits on the amount of time residents can share their home, and simultaneously expanding visitor sites. For Frans van der Avert, Chief Executive of Amsterdam Marketing, the emphasis of his role has moved away from attracting visitors, and instead focuses on distributing visitors more widely throughout the city. In an interview with Skift, Avert comments “When you look at the foreign visitors, half of them are here for the first time. I don’t bother them with [marketing] these new neighbourhoods because we know that they want to see the Van Gogh and the canals and they go to the Anne Frank House, but when you are here for the second or the third or the fourth or the fifth time, you think ‘Oh.’”

So how can hospitality businesses play a part in a sustainable tourism future, and what to do if you operate in a ‘honeypot’ area?

While we might not have a Macchu Picchu in the UK, World Heritage status for the Lake District for example, and TV and film exposure of Cornwall and The Cotswolds all contribute to the creation of honeypot sites that are a must-see for international and domestic visitors alike. There are two key considerations for tourism sustainability for businesses; the first is your own sustainability and the second is your place and role in your local tourism strategy.

When it comes to the sustainability of your area, it is unrealistic to suggest that you have a significant impact on the tourism sustainability of the area. Your establishment will have limited rooms, and those rooms can be sold a maximum of 365 times per year, so you’re not necessarily contributing to the long-term local sustainability. Instead, the internal focus for your business should be on the all-round sustainability of the business, including your commitment to environmental and economic management, your corporate social responsibility, your HR & ethical employment and your supplier practices and business compliance. Aside from the intrinsic cost savings and economic benefits of being more sustainable, there is an added benefit of capitalising on consumer demand for the trend; one third of UK consumers now judge providers on their sustainability and 1 in 5 are more likely to stay when the business proves itself sustainable. Your strategy should include:

  • Property maintenance and upgrades. Maintain the property to take advantage of environmental and economic benefits, at the same time enhancing the visitor experience. Consider quality grading schemes or mystery shopper exercises that can benchmark your property against similar competitor offerings. 
  • Focus on your staff; particularly applicable in a honeypot area where there are many opportunities for jobs in hospitality roles, staff care should be paramount to the business. Consider employee benefits, flexible working practices (where possible), team happiness of your team, staff training and HR policies and procedures so that the individual can feel cared for and nurtured.
  • Maintain your integrity, deliver your USPs.  Where possible encourage your guests to travel by more sustainable methods, to help reduce traffic issues on the roads; can you work with a local bike hire company to get them out and about whilst getting them active too? Improve their experience with you by offering sustainable alternatives.

Aside from your individual impacts, one of the most effective strategies for helping to reduce overtourism in your area is to become a member of the local DMO, enabling them to take responsibility for the overall tourism strategy of the area, and pioneer approaches which benefit members at the same time supporting the long-term sustainability of the area and the distribution of tourists throughout the area. You can then support this strategy by:

  • considering your own impact on the overtourism issues in your destination – how can you reduce traffic issues, pollution, litter, can you create a more collaborative approach with your local community – getting them more engaged so the tourist experiences your local culture at its best and is happy to welcome tourists to their village, town or city. Identify some of the ‘hidden gems’ which are famous with locals, but not with tourists. Can you make recommendations to help spread the tourism burden?
  • adapting your promotion – if summer is peak season in your area, shift your marketing and campaigns to encourage visitors to consider autumn/winter breaks. What different things be seen in different seasons?

While it might be an emerging term at the moment, in 10 years’ time all tourism will have to be responsible. Those businesses who opt to adapt now will be best-placed to capitalise on future strategies. As Fabian Cousteau said at the WTTC Global Summit 2016: “I look forward to the day when there is no sustainable tourism. Just tourism.”

Case study: Bath

The golden city of Bath has been welcoming visitors for over 2,000 years. Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Bath is home to some of the most impressive architectural sights in the world such as the Royal Crescent, the Circus and Pulteney Bridge. Bath is the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water at Thermae Bath Spa and visit 2,000 year old original Roman Baths.  The Roman Baths Museum gives a fascinating insight into the original bathing complex and the great Roman temple of Sulis Minerva. Above the Museum in the 18th century Pump Room you can taste the waters, enjoy a meal and listen to music from the Pump Room Trio. 

In 2013, Bath & NE Somerset attracted approximately 967,000 staying visits from UK and overseas visitors, combined with 4.8 million day visits, generating an estimated £405 million pounds worth of visitor spend in the local economy. The destination is popular with overseas visitors, accounting for 28% of their total visitor numbers. This number has grown steadily, and the town is now keen to manage visitor numbers, fluctuations throughout the year and spread throughout the town.

VisitBath work hard to tackle these issues and work closely with neighbouring areas to form partnerships that encourage visitors to move around the destination and the wider area. Sites such as Glastonbury, Stonehenge, Bristol and the Cotswolds are included and hotel owners in less popular destinations are being encouraged to showcase their quality and uniqueness, drawing visitors to stay with them as a base for day trips into the historic city of Bath.

Case Study: Blackpool

Blackpool is the UK’s most visited seaside destination, with historic popularity, having retained this title for more than a century. Aside from its obvious popularity, the destination has identified and is implementing a new destination strategy to reduce overtourism and extend the trading season.

Blackpool tourism is traditionally centred in Peak summer, with visitors coming from the UK and abroad, with a secondary peak in October and November for the illuminations. These peaks are typified by significant visitor numbers, with limited tourism for the rest of the year. As part of their new strategy, Blackpool Tourism is trying to change the perception of town, elongating their events programme, encouraging increased use of the Winter Gardens and capitalising on trends such as Strictly Come Dancing to portray the town in a different light. The ambition is to extend the tourism season and encourage a more long-term, sustainable and stable visitor strategy.

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