Tourism's Period of Uncertainty



Issue # 10 (1092 words/4 Minutes)


Tourism's Period of Uncertainty

DMOs, cannot shape tourism in their destination the way they used to.

But that does not mean CEOs do not have the tools for the road ahead.


The post-recession time of 2010 through 2019 was one of the most stable and prosperous times for the tourism and hospitality industry. DMOs focus was primarily on promoting their destination without much else to worry about. But since that time, the industry has experienced significant upheaval driven by forces of change, including climate change, Overtourism, the COVID pandemic, and most recently, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. These forces have all changed the operating dynamics of the industry so that DMOs cannot as easily shape tourism policy in their destinations as they might have in the past. These forces of change have created a lot of uncertainty within the industry.


National and global events are shaping tourism at the local level in a way the industry has never experienced. The impact is significant; one wonders if municipal destinations will return to the vibrant places, they were to rural destinations experiencing visitation levels that stress and, in many ways, go beyond their infrastructure capabilities. DMOs did not have to use to worry about these things. Nor did they have to concern themselves with workforce housing, industry labor shortages or industry pay and benefits. But here we are.


The impact of these forces of change is being seen at an alarming rate. Airlines are restructuring their routes and their fleets in a very different way than ever before. Suddenly, the outdoor destinations have air service they could have only dreamed of before. Workers are choosing to work at home impacting many downtowns. Lack of business and international travel are creating havoc for destinations that relied heavily on these segments. Automation and reservation systems are starting to creep in at every point in the vacation. Think about it one day (in the not-too-distant future); you will drive up to a destination in a predetermined GPS parking spot. If you are skiing or going to an attraction, you will not need to pay for admissions at the ticket window because you will have already reserved your ticket, and it is on your phone. The same thing for your hotel check-in, there is no check-in, and you go to your room with your room key in your phone. Want to go for a hike? You will have already paid for that hike when you made a reservation for a parking spot at the trailhead. Finally, you may or may not eat at a restaurant when you are hungry afterward. You may order online and pick up your food or have a delivery service drop it off. The pricing you pay will be adjusted to the time and day you use it.


It is a different world; get used to it. To top it off, we now have the geopolitical impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While it may not impact us directly, it creates a pause, a reflective moment of the direction of world events, which causes consumers to change their perceptions, outlook, and behaviors in ways we might not see just yet.


All these changes are up in the air, and all are fluid, and dealing with them is a challenge for the industry and DMOs. The reality is the industry is being redefined right before our very eyes, and nobody has the answers to these challenges. There is no template, no top-down strategic plan to get through this level of change.


Despite this new place, the industry is in DMOs have the tools to navigate this change. First, it is essential to know the status quo is not a place you necessarily want to be. As Wayne Gretzky, "The Great One," once said, you do not skate to the puck; you skate to where the puck is going.


What to do? In times of uncertainty, leadership always wins. Successful organizations will move ahead with leadership, an open mindset, creativity, and decision-making—the hallmarks of adaptability.


What is needed now is savvy instinct and feel by organizations and CEO's, it is touch, reaction, feel, and adjustment for where consumers are going. DMOs would be wise to use this changing market to their advantage. The ability to adjust and change is only limited by your imagination, which will become more critical to navigating a changing marketplace. As TBID funds fueled DMOs in the past, Imagination and creativity are the fuel for DMOs. It is not just the creativity you get from your ad agency or your PR firm in developing a message but reframing your situation, your destination's assets, and your competitive situation in ways you have not considered before. DMOs and destinations also need to rethink how they make decisions and what their organizations look like to implement them. Speed to market should replace layers of deliberations in organizational decision-making.


Rethinking everything not only gets you to question what is useful going forward but really what your focus is. Are you a CEO who wants to check a box or make a mark as a leader? Do you need the same visitor profile year after year? Maybe you need to rethink information needs more creatively? Does your destination still need all those events? Or are you doing them because you are fearful of not doing them? Does your website look and feel like competitor DMO websites? Maybe now is the time to go in a different direction?


Leadership, an open mindset, creativity, and decision-making are not just words, and they matter in taking advantage of this fluid situation. They are the tools and how you use them, the art of navigating a turbulent market. Can you change how you do things? Does your organizational culture enable it? One thing to consider is how you make needed changes if you keep doing things the same way with the same people in the same room. We talk about diversity which is an essential strategy on so many levels. But it is not just diversity of ethnicity; it is the diversity of ideas, perspectives, and experiences that it takes to be competitive moving forward.


As a DMO executive, a fundamental question needs to be answered; it should constantly nag at you. Does everything you do fit with where the world is going or where you have been? This kind of change is not for the faint of heart; there is a timely quote from the naturalist, John Burroughs, "Leap and the net will appear" does your organization have the courage to leap? For more information: Contact Carl Ribaudo, carl@smgonline.net





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