Communicating the Significance of the Tourism Industry

by Dr Stuart Toplis, Industry Development Consultant, Tourism Victoria
Apr 2008
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Summary

For those in the tourism industry the significance of tourism to host communities is quite apparent due to:

  • the jobs it generates
  • the economic benefits that visitors bring
  • the community well-being that tourism creates.

This article explores the benefits of effectively communicating the significance of tourism and looks at the challenge of doing this effectively. It goes on to give some possible solutions, including Tourism Week Programmes and Tourism Victoria's Talking Up Tourism resource kit.

While there is an increasing community understanding of the benefits tourism brings to communities, there are still many who are yet to appreciate the significance of tourism, including policy-makers and the general public. This problem is not unique to the UK or Australia but is manifest in many developed countries where tourism is not a core component of the economy.

As community support, or lack of it, can have a significant effect on the success or failure of a tourist destination, awareness-raising activities about the significance of tourism play a crucial role in the future development of the industry. Ironically, it is a role that is still not fully appreciated by many in the industry.

Therefore, Tourism Victoria, the government agency for the development and promotion of tourism in the State, has developed a resource kit, Talking Up Tourism, as a way to help tourism businesses and agencies to communicate more effectively with the Government on tourism issues. While it might seem odd that a government agency should produce a publication to inform businesses and interest groups how to more effectively lobby, the idea behind the resource kit is that if industry and the government can communicate more effectively, and on the same wavelength, then there will be a net benefit for both the industry and the State.

Awareness-raising activities enable governments and other decision-makers, business and the community to better understand what tourism is, how it operates in their communities, and the financial and non-financial contribution it makes to a community. An appropriately informed, involved and empowered community can play a key role in supporting its local tourism industry.

It is also important that the local business sector, both within or outside the direct tourism industry, fully understands the significance of tourism to the local economy, and recognises how it is a part of the local support infrastructure for that industry.

Well-informed elected representative and departmental officials, investors and other key decision-makers are more likely to make decisions and develop policies that better account for the needs of the tourism industry. An understanding and acknowledgment of the diverse socio-economic benefits of tourism will assist in attracting funding, and in the strategic management and allocation of community resources. In addition, raising awareness amongst elected officials at all levels of government should assist when they are addressing issues that affect tourism in a local community.

Conversely, many of the issues facing regional and local tourism, such as community resentment and limited local government contributions, are due to the industry's inability to effectively communicate the sector's significance. Reasons for this situation are as diverse as the industry itself, yet there are common factors that have influenced the ability (or inability) to communicate the significance of tourism to government, the business sector and general community.

In terms of size and structure, the tourism industry embraces a wide range of sectors and services mostly working discretely and pursing their own personal interests and agendas. In contrast to other industries, these interests can be diametrically opposed, as a policy that benefits domestic tourism (eg reducing tax on accommodation) can harm travel agents who concentrate on outbound tourism. Indeed, some argue that due to this situation there is no such thing as "the tourism industry".

Also, in Australia, as in the UK, the tourism industry largely consists of small independent enterprises that are economically fragile, operate to a short time horizon and relate to their immediate locality. These businesses are more concerned with bookings and cashflow on a daily basis and do not have the time and the resources to take a long-term strategic view as to how the industry as a whole should develop.

Without a combined industry voice, there is often a lack of leadership (as often no organisation takes responsibility for this role), and large influential businesses therefore dominate. The tourism industry as a whole has struggled to gain recognition in government policy and private sector priorities.

Local and regional tourism associations, as the voice of tourism at the micro level, are well positioned to communicate the significance of tourism to regional stakeholders. However, in many cases, association executives and professional officers lack the necessary communication skills and supporting resources to effectively achieve this role.

This is because the route into these organisations is usually through ownership of a business in the region or sector which provides limited knowledge of how to effectively communicate with government departments. This problem is compounded by the small budgets of many of these organisations, meaning that they are unable to buy in professional advice.

A further issue is the use of inconsistent and inappropriate data and data collection methods adopted by local and regional tourism associations, making it difficult to estimate the economic significance of tourism in a region or municipality. Many organisations simply poll their members to gain their data. Without robust local data the industry's ability to present arguments is limited.

Importantly, achieving the goal of favourable community support for tourism through targeted awareness-raising activities requires an understanding of the community's attitudes toward tourism.

Aside from some destination-specific studies, little is known about the general community attitudes and awareness of tourism in many parts of the world. Without this information, awareness-raising activities may therefore be based on incorrect perceptions and assumptions rather than reality.

As a reflection of the low priority of awareness-raising activities, many tourism associations and local governments focus their resources solely on selling the destination to tourists and not on selling tourism to residents and other stakeholders. If the local community and local government are not aware of the importance of tourism, they can hardly be criticised for not supporting it.

Many of the benefits of tourism, especially the economic ones, are increasingly appreciated by the local community. Yet, some of the less identifiable benefits are not so well understood, particularly where there is little contact between visitors and the local community. In addition, the benefits of tourism are not felt instantly and there is no immediate response to changes or implementation of policy.

Generating positive news coverage about tourism can be challenging as negative impacts traditionally receive greater prominence as they are often more immediate and newsworthy.

There are a number of strategies that have been adopted by tourism organisations to raise the awareness of the benefits of tourism in their communities. These range in size and scope, and include local community initiatives, such as holding 'expos' or 'open days' that provide information to locals about 'touristy' things to do or developing loyalty programmes for residents.

Other bigger initiatives include:

  • national Tourism Week programmes involving many stakeholders and significant resources
  • tourism toolkits
  • tourism advocacy campaigns.

For many tourism organisations worldwide, Tourism Week programmes are the cornerstone of their tourism communications activities, acting as a focal point for national, regional and local activities. According to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), the annual National Tourism Week celebration that it holds is its premier public advocacy programme. It represents the single TIA activity that assists both members and non-members in advocating the power of travel to its most basic grassroots level.

Tourism Week programmes are commonly a series of inter-related events and activities under a common banner, including 'anchor' events, aimed at raising awareness of the significance of tourism to a range of audiences. These events include:

  • parliamentary receptions
  • travel trade fairs
  • tourism awards and conferences.

In many cases, the inclusion of a high profile patron (Prince Charles in the UK) or an official declaration from Government (USA) has contributed to the success of these programs.

Tourism Week programs are typically organised collaboratively by a number of tourism industry partners, including government tourism agencies and industry associations, with the support of private sector sponsors, especially key media outlets. The latter play a key role in securing positive media reporting of the significance of tourism. Tourism Week programmes, such as the British Tourism Week run by VisitBritain in the UK, have also played a role in promoting excellence to the tourism industry.

Communicating the significance of tourism under one banner over a distinct period of time and across a broad geographic area magnifies the impact of these activities. To achieve this outcome and ensure consistency of message and branding, toolkits and accreditation programs have been developed by a number of the Tourism Week programs.

While the Tourism Week programs mentioned above are national programmes, there is significant opportunity for regional and local tourism businesses to come together in the same way, with the support of a local community figure and the local newspaper, to undertake such an event at the local level.

Due to the more local nature of these events, there is a significant opportunity to involve the local residents and officials by taking them on tours, holding open days at local attractions, initiating volunteer programmes and providing information packs.

These activities not only provide the community with a greater understanding of the benefits of tourism to the local economy, but also encourage people to take an interest and a pride in their area. This has the flow-on benefits of turning residents into ambassadors for the area who are knowledgeable about the history and attractions. They are also more likely to take friends and relatives who stay with them to the attractions that they have visited, boosting tourism numbers and expenditure.

While holding a Tourism Week is a very good way to boost local understanding of tourism and its importance to the community, tourism advocacy needs to be undertaken on a continual and ongoing basis if it is to effect change. For this to occur under the limitations of fragmentation, low communication skills and limited resources requires outside guidance.

Tourism Victoria, the state government authority responsible for developing and marketing Victoria as a premium tourist destination for Australian and international travellers has therefore recently released the aptly-named Talking Up Tourism resource kit. The kit aims to provide information and tools to assist local and regional tourism representatives to organise themselves to successfully promote the economic, socio-cultural and environmental benefits of tourism.

The Kit combines research and statistical information, with practical ideas and resources to assist in actively communicating the significance of tourism. These resources are aimed at achieving positive change in community and stakeholder attitudes about the nature and effect of tourism.

The Kit's emphasis is on leading tourism industry participants to the most practical and cost efficient approach to convincing key stakeholders about the significant contribution the sector makes to the State of Victoria and the overall well-being of local communities. It includes supporting data as well as advice on public relations and media activity, sources of advice, support and information, and examples and templates.

There are three main components to any successful campaign.

  1. The Preparation. Organisations need to:
    • focus on the objective of any campaign or lobbying
    • select the target audience
    • decide the message that is to be communicated
    • allocate resources and responsibilities
    • set the objective and timeframe for the campaign.
  2. Gaining Media Support. Critical to the success of any campaign is gaining media support. Organisations need to target the correct media to fit both the audience and the campaign, frame press releases so that they will be of interest to the media and provide new angles on stories to maintain media interest.
  3. Effective Advocacy. While gaining media interest is important, for most campaigns it is the gaining of political support that is paramount if the status-quo is to be changed. It is therefore important that tourism organisations know how to influence politicians and officials. The basic rules of lobbying are that you must do your research, build alliances, have a game plan, propose solutions and invest in political relationships.

Throughout a campaign it is important to promote the social, environmental and economic benefits of tourism to Members of Parliament and other elected officials. These people are intimately involved in their local areas and can play an important role in representing the interests of the tourism industry at all levels of government.

It is also important to provide a solution that helps politicians, either by allowing them to achieve their overall objective or by helping them avoid a mistake that would criticised. There is usually little mileage in attacking politicians (especially on a personal basis) as the usual response to such an attack is to become entrenched in a position and to fight back. And politicians usually have well developed skills in this regard.

Understanding these key concepts in developing and implementing a tourism advocacy campaign means that even small tourism organisations can develop an effective voice and effect change that supports the growth of tourism to their area on a relatively small budget.

In conclusion, effectively communicating the significance of industry is a major challenge for the tourism industry worldwide. The challenge is made more difficult by:

  • the fragmented nature of the industry itself
  • perceived higher priorities by many due to the limited recognition of the host community's role in tourism development
  • difficulties in generating positive media coverage.

Arming the industry with the necessary tools and advice is one important approach to overcoming these hurdles.

Of the many solutions available Tourism Week programs are increasingly regarded by many tourism organisations as the cornerstone of the significance of tourism awareness-raising activities.

Although this is something that seems counter-intuitive to most public sector tourism agencies, providing the knowledge and tools to private sector organisations to allow them to effectively organise and articulate their concerns is ultimately beneficial to both the public and private sectors. It allows the industry to become more cohesive and effective in advocating to government with a single clear voice while relieving the public agency of the dilemma of having to publicly advocate against the agencies that fund it. This is a win-win situation for all concerned.

Copies of the Handbook are available from Tourism Victoria or shortly online at www.tourism.vic.gov.au.

If you should have any questions about the Kit please do not hesitate to contact Stuart Toplis, Industry Development Consultant at stuart.toplis@tourism.vic.gov.au.