Turning around the present situation and the impact on tourism by looking at this period as a positive godsend may seem a courageous decision for most, but it is the only way that we can weather the storm without being dashed to pieces on the reefs of despair. Julian Zarb discusses the concept of looking at these moments of a tourism slow down as an opportunity to rethink our product, services and marketing process.
Every businessman will understand the need to rethink marketing strategies and product development to survive the change in trends and competitive aspects. If we had to take a look at the way in which the tourism industry has fared over the past decade we will note that there was little change in the inbound tourism arrivals – not that we really need any drastic increases in these figures, mind you, but we do need to consider the qualitative aspect of the tourism market; particularly we need to consider what value for money we are giving today and how this can be improved or enhanced in any way.
Over the past years we have heard of various attempts to enhance our product offering, indeed this is an ongoing process, but we always seem to fall short of an ultimate goal or target objective; instead we are forever re-inventing the wheel and saying we must do something about this issue instantly. The present situation, that is being described by some as an economic downturn (an upgraded term that supercedes the Credit Crunch definition) and by others as a recession, could provide us with the time we need to get our house in order and work on the enhancements and strategies we need to develop a sustainable and rejuvenated tourism industry that can be attractive as well as unique for the potential visitor in a post-recessionary world.
During this year’s ITB Fair in Berlin, there was an amount of cautious optimism about the present and future position of the tourism industry within the socio-economic environment. In his opening address, the interim Secretary General for the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai, stressed the need for synergies to help overcome the slowdown; by adopting seven basic rules and policies all stakeholders should be able to ensure that everyone understands their responsibilities, these seven points included such actions as: Being realistic; Embracing change in markets, demand and operating dynamics; Harnessing the power of technology; Boosting public/private partnership; Reminding the world that “Travel means Jobs, Infrastructure, Trade and development); Helping the poorest grow tourism; Putting tourism and travel at the core of stimulus packages and the new green deal.
I hear some of you say : “We know all these action points and we do try and follow them!” We all need reminding, we all need a little prod every now and then and we certainly all need to feel that we are part of a vast network of practitioners and entrepreneurs who want to satisfy our shareholders and boards that we are really trying to end this year with a relatively healthy triple bottom line. Mr Rifei also explained that the Tourism Resilience Committee has started its work of looking for workable solutions to the global problems facing tourism, it does need the input and support of all national and international organisations and these, stated the interim Secretary-General, are most welcome.
The global trends for tourism show a rather different picture for 2009. There were decreases in the number of IATA flights (up to 5.6 per cent less) according to the Consultation group, IPK, whose Managing Director, Rolf Freitag, gave a very clear and illustrative picture. Mr Frietag also stated that it was predicted the downturn would last between 6 to 18 months and that, rather than a shortage of cash available to travel, the consumer will be more worried about the feeling of insecurity rather than a lack of cash flow.
It was predicted, according to the IPK reports, that 40 per cent of all EU visitors will change their travel behaviour – namely moving from foreign destinations to domestic travel, at least for the time being.
A post recession tourist will set four essential criteria, namely: Value for money; Domestic Travel; Internet users; Web meeting technology.
Malta and Gozo do have the potential to provide a unique and interesting attraction that can feature these four criteria, but it can only happen if we make things happen now.
Julian Zarb is a Tourism journalist and media presenter and is also Vice President of the European Union of Tourism Officers (EUTO)