The sign of a proactive and motivated society is marked by the attitude it takes towards continuous learning and best practice initiatives. I was recently on a holiday in Sicily and I was astounded by the wealth of history, culture and character that this island possesses. Unfortunately, it is marred with a social problem that does not augur well for a really competitive and value for money tourism activity. There were several examples I could mention among them, perhaps some of the more irritating, is the lack of finesse and regard for hospitality that some front line staff possess; or the almost total disregard that establishments pay to any clear and distinctive rules (one such rule concerns a regulation that customers using the departure lounge at Catania Airport cannot enter a catering outlet with an airport luggage trolley.) The issue is not that there is such a policy, I could understand that to some degree...every organisation should have a basis and rationale for implementing policies and strategies; what irritates me in these cases is the utter lack of signage and information panels. People, more likely, tourists and non-native visitors, need the services of clear signage and information if they are expected to understand what is expected from them. But to be aware of the design and planning of information for visitors, one has to be conscious about national needs and expectations when it comes to the adoption of best practice strategies.
Best practice does not mean that we have to adopt strategies and policies, more or less, as carbon copies of their originals. It should rather mean that we need to study these originals and then adapt them to a local scenario – bearing in mind the environmental, social and characteristic qualities of the country or destination. This is the primary reason why we need to select those sources of best practice studies which can be scrutinised for a relative degree of success in implementing strategies and policies related to sustainable and responsible tourism. The identification of those sources of best practice needs to be chosen carefully. We need to consider both those destinations that are potential sources of best practice and those that can be considered as potential beneficiaries of the best practice studies. In both cases, there is a common trend and that is the continuous enhancement of the tourism product, the continuous development of the principal stakeholders and workforce and the awareness of the local resident. This distinction between potential beneficiaries and sources should also help to set levels of best practice and the need for further development. Unfortunately, it seems, that we are all too eager to undertake projects and exchange visits with the unlikeliest of partner countries. Over the past decade or so, the hospitality and tourism industry in Malta and Gozo has made remarkable steps in improving its tourism product, hospitality and services, although work still needs to be done on enhancing the value for money aspect as well as some infrastructural aesthetics.
The European Union of Tourism Officers (EUTO) organizes an annual conference and field study visits every year that is hosted by one of its many European Country members. The objectives of this annual event is for members of this Pan- European organization to experience best practice in different situations, be they market, political, social or environmental. Whether the country is considered a beneficiary of best practice or a source depends on how the programme for the event is planned – whether the focus is on the core competencies of that destination and whether there is room for cross exposure and inter market learning and development.
The example I mentioned in the opening to this article should illustrate the importance of identifying core competencies and training needs when organising best practice experiences – this will ensure mutual benefit for the destination, the tourist as well as the stakeholders.