When is more [tourism] too much?

Responsibly Managing Your Destination

“Less is more only when more is too much.” An adaptation of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most noted quotes is starting to reverberate in destinations becoming (and in some cases only perceived to be) “overrun” with tourists.

The traditional role of a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) has been to market a destination – with the primary goal of increasing visitation across the board. But as destinations become more popular with tourists, residents and visitors themselves can become vocal dissenters. In cities like Barcelona and Venice, local tourism agencies are searching for ways to manage a backlash of angry sentiment from residents who feel as though they are losing their history and homes to hordes of visitors who are disrespectful to, and impeding on, their way of life. These DMOs are also working with stakeholders to pay close attention to the visitor experience. And DMOs are even starting to look more closely at the “quality” of the visitor segments that are being marketed to.

These challenges are increasingly being referred to in general as “anti-tourism”, and with the proliferation of social media, they can gain momentum rapidly, broadly and often without warning. Because of this and several other factors shifting in the tourism landscape, many DMOs are starting to think about an evolution from Marketing organizations to Marketing and Management organizations – sometimes referred to as DMMOs. Whatever they are referring to themselves as, these organizations are working proactively with stakeholders and attractions to balance the economic benefits of tourism with the importance of the preservation and sustainability of their destination all while explaining to the local community and elected officials the importance of both.

As DMOs begin to look at their future as DMMOs, we are often asked what they should do to prepare for this transition. Developing a Marketing Action Plan (MAP) is the best way we know of to accomplish this task. While the “M” in MAP does stand for marketing, the MAP development process is not just a marketing plan for attracting visitors – it’s designed to be a holistic plan to effectively communicate with all of the constituents that can influence your success. While every destination is different, the target audiences most often included on DMO MAPs are:

  • Group Planners (Meeting, Event and Reunion)
  • Group Attendees
  • Leisure Travelers
  • Business Travelers
  • Lodging Providers and Restaurants
  • Partners and Attractions
  • Board Members
  • Residents (often including Students if your destination has any sort of secondary education)
  • Local Community Leaders and Elected Officials
  • DMO Staff
  • Travel Writers
  • Regional Media

To add some perspective to this topic, we have outlined a few examples of how destinations and attractions are managing some of these challenges. DMOs are often active participants, or in some cases, even facilitating these destination management “opportunities”. However, in almost every case, the destination overall is the biggest beneficiary.

Charleston, South Carolina identified the lack of adequate parking as one of the main issues that was negatively impacting residents and the visitor experience. To address this issue, the city installed metered parking, built several easily accessible parking garages and began offering trolley rides around town. To offer further relief to both visitors and residents, the ever-popular carriage rides have become more tightly regulated, with strict routes and metered schedules to avoid clogging up the streets.

Zion National Park, a very popular attraction in southwestern Utah, is grappling with overcrowding. While it’s relatively small in size at 150,000 acres, nearly 4.3 million annual visitors flock to the park, overwhelming infrastructure facilities, trails and backcountry. This massive influx of visitors (and their tourism dollars) is obviously a major boom to the destination’s local economy. But the question of responsible tourism management in this area is getting a lot of attention. And many are asking, at what point does “more” become “too much”? In response to these challenges, Zion National Park has considered paring down the number of visitors to a sustainable level by instituting a limited online reservation system, with the number of reservations varying by season. Doing this can convey the value of the experience and encourage respect for the limits of the attraction.

As DMOs look for ideas to manage anti-tourism sentiment being shared by visitors to destinations or attractions, Disney World is often lifted up as a model for managing the visitor experience with their efforts to develop innovative ways to sustainably manage large numbers of visitors within its parks. Disney created the FastPass, allowing visitors to skip lines for select attractions, shows and character greetings as long as visitors locked in these experiences ahead of time. Subject to availability, the FastPass encourages visitors to plan their excursions in advance. The supply and demand management system networks all the major attractions together and allows visitors to distribute themselves more equally among the park’s numerous offerings. The system has had a positive impact on the visitor experience by increasing their ability to enjoy more attractions vs. waiting in long lines. It has allowed the park’s less popular attractions and food & beverage options to soak up some of the excess demand (when no FastPass options are available). And by more evenly distributing these visitors throughout the parks, the FastPass system has allowed Disney to more effectively implement yield management strategies and to accommodate even more visitors in its parks than previously possible – with both of these outcomes having a positive impact on the revenue generated per visitor.

As DMOs look for ways to make more from less (having a larger economic impact per visitor with fewer visitors) consider Venice, Italy’s decision to limit cruise ships direct access to the city’s historic areas. One of the main reasons at the heart of these efforts, especially with regards to cruise tourism, are concerns that it is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable to allow these huge cruise ships to “dwarf the city’s beautiful architecture, and disgorge thousands of passengers that choke the narrow canals and streets.” And not only is the physical impact of these visitors seen as a threat to Venice’s fragile infrastructure, but from an economic viability point of view, “tourists holiday expenditure in Europe is split roughly equally between accommodation, transport and other expenses. But for those on cruises their accommodation travels with them, removing a third of the destination’s potential income. Another third is affected because cruise passengers often return to the ship for lunch and dinner, included as part of their cruise package.” And then you also have to consider how many potential “high value” visitors who would have stayed in local accommodations, dined in local restaurants and spent a larger portion of their vacation expenditures in the destination might have decided NOT to visit at all because of the overcrowding that results from all these “low value” visitors.

In an effort to address these challenges, DMOs must consider the social and environmental impacts of tourism in addition to its economic benefits. While it’s encouraging to witness a massive influx of visitors, how is it affecting the integrity of your destination? And equally as important, how is it affecting the overall visitor experience? Can destinations and attractions be truly appreciated when you’re trekking alongside throngs of strangers all vying for the perfect selfie?

As you consider the fundamentals of your DMO’s role in managing your destination, keep these two factors in mind:

  1. Ensure that the vision for your destination’s future encompasses sustainability in addition to economic development. These two concepts should go hand in hand.
  2. Define who you want to visit your destination, when you have opportunities to attract them and then develop a strategy to engage them.

Every DMO is responsible for generating interest in their destination, increasing overnight stays and promoting overall economic development – and rightly so! But there is no doubt that you also want your attractions to be enjoyed for years to come. And that means being strategic with your marketing efforts and responsibly managing – not just marketing – your destination.


Posted in DMO Challenges, Marketing Strategy Tags