"Overtourism" during this summer period, is a word that is everywhere. Tourism is an opportunity to get away from your everyday life, meet others, take a break and refocus. In our beautiful industry, man is the focus and even more present when it comes to providing an experience, as we pride ourselves in wanting to leave the traveler with an unforgettable memory.
This trend is not ready to change. In 1996 there were 524 million tourists travelling around the world and in 2018, there were 1.4 billion according to the WTO. Source markets such as China or India are far from having delivered their full potential which is a good thing because, let us not forget that in France tourism represents 7% of GDP, assigning hundreds of thousands of jobs: a significant source of income that is not to be neglected.
On the edge
The secret lies in balance. Finding the right balance means asking the right questions, allocating human, financial and logistical resources; being able to federate, know how to listen and dare to experiment... Few give themselves the means. Furthermore, there is a very fundamental human weakness that hinders the long-term development of tourist destinations. Plutarch said it in his works nearly 2000 years ago: "Gold and silver cannot satisfy the love of riches: greed, by always acquiring, is never satisfied."
When maximizing margins by increasing prices and lowering the quality of services, the yield increases but for how long? When taxes are increased driven by resources generated by all these visitors, are we able to reinvest these revenues wisely and efficiently? When you recruit frenetically, without worrying about the training and skills of staff facing the public and in back office - as the sector suffers from a labor shortage - how to avoid dysfunctions and how to protect the customer from these hiccups?
Reputation, e-reputation a treasure to cherish
However, the fact remains that the quality of the product and service is crucial for the image of the destination. Better to lose an eye than to lose your reputation. Nothing is longer, more expensive and complicated than to rebuild a good brand image with your customers and prospects. A good experience will be multiplied by word of mouth. A bad experience will have disastrous consequences on the e-reputation of a destination.
Nevertheless, the safety and security of people is one of the fundamental aspects of a tourist destination. What is the image of Venice where a liner hits a river cruise ship in the canal leading to Saint Mark's Square and wounds people? The mayor asks for UNESCO to be classified as a heritage in danger; tired of the endless and sterile discussions on the question of overcrowding in its destination with the central government. What is the image of a city like Barcelona where angry residents display slogans as violent as "tourists = terrorists"? Examples of this type are multiplying on all over the world from the Great Wall of China to Machu Pichu and the African Savannah. Some have taken matters into their own hands such as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, victim of its success, after careful observation and analyses of the behavior of its visitors, has put into place solutions to regulate visits and stop congestion.
When will there be strong and recognized destination brands?
When I buy a branded product, I know what to expect, I am reassured by this brand's standards, status and its universe. Why do we have so much trouble rebuilding this universe for tourist destinations? These are ecosystems that are so complex and changing, that the effort required is much greater. A pity for the Musée du Louvre brand when tourists visit to have the trip of their lives but find the doors closed because the museum's employees are on strike due to overcrowding. How can a destination that welcomed more than 10 million visitors in 2018 cope with the influx of visitors who came to admire the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo without concern for Flemish painting or Egyptian art?
The growing number of tourists around the world is a very good thing because it means more trade, more openness of people towards one another and globalization even if it is not universal. But please, not at any price, nor in the blindness of greed. Just as man consumes several planets a year, and is only beginning to measure the consequences, we must find ways to encourage or coerce people to respect each others habitats, whether they are natural or manmade. The European Union, national and local governments must not abandon this central role of regulation and coordination. There is still time to find the ways and means to preserve the image of leading tourist destinations around the world.
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