SAN JUAN – The tourism industry has seen major changes in the past few years, from tourists’ expectations to the role it plays in social and economic discussions. In turn, this has meant a change of focus in terms of tendencies and strategies for the structures that manage the tourism sector in different jurisdictions.
“This is not the same business it was when we signed up 15 years ago,” Don Welsh, CEO of Destination International said when delivering his presentation on the state of the tourism industry during the Meet Puerto Rico annual assembly.
One of the elements that has propelled these changes is that travelers look for destinations with many experiences, which has meant they are paying attention to elements that were not so important before.
An example of this is what Welsh called the “weaponization of travel,” referring to the growing trend of boycotting destinations as a response to a controversial action taken by a government of a particular jurisdiction.
Welsh used the North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or HB2, which would establish that transgender people must use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate. As part of the opposition to this bill, corporations, nonprofit organizations, individuals and even governments from other states canceled their travel plans to North Carolina.
While components from all sectors are involved in this strategy, Welsh explained that they do not do so in the same way. Corporations and governments tend to be more explicit when it comes to boycotting. On the other hand, individuals tend not to take firm positions until a situation directly affects them, and even then the boycott tends to be more subtle.
“They’ll [tourists] say, ‘there are many alternatives.’ If they see something that they do not feel good about ethically, morally or whatever, they just won’t go there, but in many cases they won’t say it. They’ll just make their decision quietly,” Welsh explained.
Other factors that have changed do to a proliferation of educated tourists are the need to have “the fundamentals,” or a destination’s infrastructure, “in place,” as well as shifting old publicity models and implementing a cohesive brand strategy, such as destination branding.
“Travelers don’t want the standard ‘I come to a major city and I only see that city.’ They want to get out. The want to experience things and they want to experience things that are unique to the city they are in,” Welsh said, adding this applies to different age groups, not just leisure travelers, but also people traveling for business or to attend a convention.
In line with this statement, Milton Segarra, CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, explained that destinations that have had success in the meetings and conventions tourism market have campaigns that promote other activities and not just the hotel or convention center’s amenities. In some of the ads from other countries shown in the presentation, the same images were used for advertising directed at leisure travelers and those aimed at business travelers, and only the written message changed.
When designing a brand for the destination, Welsh argued that there is now a greater need for a “holistic approach” to revealing a destination and that sectors that are not traditionally associated with tourism have to be included. There is also a greater need to ensure that all sectors are aligned with the brand-marketing strategy.
Despite the changes that have occurred in the industry and the elements that may serve as detractors to travel, Welsh said that tourism around the world has not decreased, on the contrary, it is undergoing growth at a rate of 6 percent compared with 2016, which is a healthy percentage considering the doom and gloom predicted at the beginning of the year and the end of 2016,” Welsh said.