When the UN World Tourism Organization releases its global tourism figures for 2017, the number of international travelers is certain to exceed 1.3 billion. Domestic tourism worldwide is likely to be at least 10 times that number. As most destination marketing organizations know, the four key performance indicators for a successful destination are:
1. Visitor numbers
2. Per capita tourism spending
3. Length of stay
4. Visitor satisfaction and propensity to return. I would add a fifth KPI, dispersion or the likelihood that a tourist’s visit will cover a large part of the destination. For tourism to comprehensively benefit a destination community and its economy it is vital that tourists are encouraged to travel well beyond gateway cities and regions.
Many national destinations, whether they are geographically large and small, experience overcrowding in their gateway cities or towns while many compelling rural, regional and natural attractions beyond the gateway points are almost neglected by tourists. In many cases, this occurs because these areas are not effectively promoted by national, state/provincial and regional tourism authorities. In some instances, poor or very expensive transport access deters tourists from visiting rural and regional areas. In some cases the lack of tourism infrastructure and a lack of training to service travelers from many countries may limit the appeal and carrying capacity of certain regions.
Increasingly, leisure travelers are drawn to destinations which offer them unique experiences. Many of these are likely to well away from gateway cities. The growth of tourism to places such as Antarctica, Patagonia, The Himalayas, Albania, Papua New Guinea, The Kimberly region of NW Australia and the Solomon Islands (to name but a few) reflect the desire of many tourists to seek out destinations which are well off the beaten tourism track.
During my own recent holiday in December I travelled throughout inland New South Wales which offered many incredible sights, tourism experiences and very few tourists. No pre-booking of accommodation was necessary because few Australians, let alone international visitors travel to inland Australia during the summer. By contrast, coastal resort destinations in South East Australia were crowded and accommodation often needs to booked well in advance.
Some destinations have demonstrated a keen awareness of the importance of dispersion in maximizing and spreading the benefit of tourism. Australia is a case in point. International visitor numbers in 2017 were about 8.7 million (an all time record) which places Australia in the middle ranking of global international visitor numbers. However the average length of stay (23 Days) and the par capita spend of about US$5,500 ranks Australia first in the world in these two KPIs. This has resulted in Australia being ranked as a top ten global tourism destination in economic terms. Tourism Australia and the Australian state tourism organizations have devoted much of their marketing to promote tourism dispersal and unique tourism experiences. They have provided financial incentives to assist regional and local tourism boards and businesses to promote tourism services, experiences and events.
Here are a few tips for destination marketing and planning organizations to help make dispersal work to enhance the economic and marketing benefits of tourism in your destination. For those readers who think this is merely the advice of an crusty old academic, I spent 18 years of my 30 year travel industry career industry involved in destination marketing.
1. Ensure there are multiple gateway points for your destination.
2. Internal transport should be affordable and of sufficient quality to ensure travelers can get around your destination. Access is a critical element in destination success.
3. Ensure that there is sufficient accommodation which caters to varying travel budgets in rural and regional areas.
4. Ensure that local communities are supportive of extending hospitality to tourists and that they derive a tangible benefit for doing so.
5. Actively promote regional and rural destinations and attractions to both domestic and international source markets.
6. Events, especially those with a either an unique or a local flavor, staged in rural and regional destination are a great drawcard for visitors, especially during off peak periods. In New South Wales, the Tamworth Country music festival held in late January attracts over 25,000 visitors to the NSW inland city and surrounding country towns. This is one of many events in regional Australia which attract thousands of tourists throughout the year.
7. In terms of planning, emphasise the importance of social, environmental and economic sustainability.
8. Take a multi-generational approach to tourism promotion. The backpacker who has a great experience in their twenties will return in their forties(sometimes with family)and spend more money in higher standard accommodation.
9. Working holiday agreements are a huge attractor for young tourists who can earn money while they travel and stay longer.
10. Ensure that regional, rural and natural destinations are promoted on all media platforms, especially social media.
11. Encourage visitors to provide feedback on their tourism experience through platforms such as Trip Advisor.
12. Host media and travel industry opinion leaders to experience the destination.
13. Ensure that the quality of tourist information available locally is of a high quality and that local people are trained and properly informed to deliver advice and guidance to visitors. A commitment to well managed tourism dispersion delivers benefits of increasing length of stay, visitors spend and enhances the quality of the tourist experience for visitors to your destination. Satisfied tourists are likely to return and encourage their family and friends to do so.