22 Feb 2011

Tourism and the letter i

Is the letter 'i' the single most important letter in tourism? 

A sign containing nothing but this single letter is able to let you know that you have found somewhere that will provide you with information. And, as far as tourism goes I mean useful, helpful and quality Visitor Information on things like where to stay, places to eat, things to do and what's on.

Tourist Information Centres are recognised by it. Road signs feature it. EnjoyEngland use it within their Official Partner accreditation. Arrive at a new resort for the first time and look for the sign that contains the letter i and there you will find someone [or something] to help you by providing the information you need.

So the letter i stands for Information! The sort of information that ensures that people have the best possible chance of enjoying themselves because they are informed. Armed with this knowledge people are far more likely to arrive sooner, stay longer, do more things and spend more money having a much better time. The provision of quality visitor Information is essential to the success of any tourism business.

In another context though you could argue that it should stand for Inspiration. That tourism is entirely about Inspiration. People want to be inspired. They need to be inspired. The first and most basic human response to Inspiration is action. Inspire people to visit your destination and they will. Simple. Surely?

However if you give them Information as well and they will definitely arrive sooner, stay longer, do more things and spend more money having a much better time. But Inspiration is of course quite a separate thing from InformationInspiration is given to us by poets, songwriters and artists, people with passion and the ability to physically, mentally and spiritually lead us to places that we would otherwise have not perhaps considered. Information is not normally provided to us by poets but more likely the sort of person who might be a Clerk and take a job in admin or finance. Two quite different things then, delivered differently but inextricably linked - and neither quite complete without the other.

But wait...the letter i also surely stands for Incentives! How could modern tourism marketing work without Incentives? Nowadays more than ever people expect Incentives to help influence their decision. The last minute deal, free bottle of wine with dinner, kids go free, stay 2 nights get the 3rd half price etc. Incentives though are provided by businesses - the Managers of our Hotels and Attractions. It is these businesses who have to make the commercial decision to 'give' stuff away to try and attract more customers. And Incentives only really makes sense within the context of a tourism offer that has sufficient Inspiration and Information to complete the package and seal the deal for the consumer.

The point about Incentives though leads us to another i! How can a Hotel or Attraction Manager make a choice about what Incentives to provide without Intelligence? And where does this sort of Intelligence come from? Are decisions made solely on the basis of what an individual business thinks to be true or do they need access to something more sector based or industry-wide. And how is this Intelligence gathered, interpreted, understood and then disseminated? To be properly useful Intelligence needs to be powered by technology that produces reports that require analysis, interpretation and explanation. For this you need Geeks to build and run the technology and then you need Business Analysts to interpret the data. At this stage you might also possibly need Relationship Managers who can pass this Intelligence on to the Hotel and Attractions Managers to help inform their decisions about Incentives!

So before you know it to make all this work together you need access to Poets, Clerks, Hotel and Attraction Managers, Geeks, Business Analysts and Relationship Managers. And then you realise that you need people who can get them all talking to each other and working together. Someone will need to provide leadership, management and an organisation that represents them all. That organisation then has to help achieve the aims and objectives of every single tourism business that wants to be involved in the growth of their local tourism sector. When you have achieved this in one place you'll then realise that this same thing needs to happen in lots of places all over the country. That you find yourself looking at an Industry.

And this is an Industry that relies upon the collective effort of a wide set of skills to deliver to the world something that is unique - the best of this country. And tourism is a big and important Industry that can play a pivotal role in the ability of our country to meet the challenge of today's global economic conditions. It brings new money in and creates training and employment opportunities for real jobs in this country, jobs that can't be off-shored. An Industry that has real economic clout and that has the full weight of government behind it! (apparently)

But like every other Industry what tourism relies upon to continue to grow is Income. And this is a very new concept because in the good old days (when there used to be RDAs) the vast majority of public sector tourism was instead supported by Investment. The return on that Investment was measured in things like economic outputs, jobs created, estimated growth of the value of the visitor economy. In hindsight maybe more of that Investment should have been put into training DMOs to become self sufficient through the generation of their own Income.

This becomes much more obvious now because public sector funding of tourism has virtually stopped, leaving DMOs up and down the country unsure whether they can continue, and if they can on what basis? If public sector tourism is to survive it needs to learn how to generate Income and create the environment where the private sector itself is happy to Invest in DMOs. The private sector will only do this when it is being delivered services that have tangible commercial value, that make these businesses more competitive and more compelling to their prospective clients. This would ordinarily take time but the pressure is on to effect change now. This may eventually lead to DMOs becoming private sector organisations delivering the support and services that the Industry needs.

And for the avoidance of doubt what the Industry needs is help to exploit the Internet! 
Modern tourism is a combination of InformationInspirationIncentives and Intelligence used by all partners within an Industry that generates Income through the shared and mutually beneficially commercial exploitation of the Internet. 

Getting the balance right is going to be key of course! But these are the challenges for a modern DMO.

So in answer to my original question I would suggest that the letter 'i' most certainly is the single most important letter in tourism - where would we be without it?