Threats of terrorism, pandemic outbreaks, natural calamities and, finally, pesky security checks notwithstanding, the international tourism industry is booming. Tourism has become a key economic driver globally, and is one of the main sources of income for many developing countries today. International tourism receipts totaled $682 billion in 2005 while arrivals, at 842 million in 2006, registered a five-fold growth over the last three decades. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals will touch the one-billion mark by2010 and the centre of activity will be the Asia-Pacific region.
The World Tourism Conference in Kuala Lumpur early this month acquired significance given the recent resurgence in the global tourism industry following several shocks starting from 9/11, continuing through the Bali bombings in 2002, the SARS epidemic, the avian flu and the Asian tsunami. The conference discussed several important issues that the global tourism industry is faced and the changes happening worldwide. The impact of technology and the changing demographics on tourism were among the interesting trends discussed.
COMING OF AGE
The tourism industry has matured significantly in recent years and is displaying a new willingness to share information and co-operate. The result: A different type of growth, one that is more moderate, more solid and more responsible.
More moderate because it is not likely to produce the spectacular double-digit growth rates of 2000and 2004. The industry can, however, look forward to about 4 per cent growth in 2007. More solid because enterprises, consumers and institutions are able to anticipate shocks and respondeffectively to crises. The market shows increased resilience and travellers are better informed; forinstance, they now include security concerns as just another consideration while selecting theirdestination. “Following each crisis, the ability to respond has improved and the return to normalcyhappens more rapidly,” as Mr Geoffrey Lipman, Assistant Secretary-General of the UNWTO, pointedout, while delivering the keynote address at the conference.
More responsible because greater attention is now being paid to the congestion that tourismgenerates and its ill-effects as also its relationship to climate change. According to the World Economic Forum Competitiveness survey, small countries are often better at planning tourism development thanthe big ones. There cannot, of course, be a better example for this than the city-island state of Singapore which was a pioneer in developing its tourism industry in its part of the world.For the smaller countries tourism accounts for 20-30 per cent of GDP. “For those economies, tourism isnot the icing, it is the cake,” said Mr Christopher Rodrigues, Chairman, Visit Britain.The `greying’ population of several developed countries is proving to be a plus for global tourism. Therising average age means a growing market of people with more discretionary income and time totravel.
Rapid economic growth has also created more affluent populations willing to splurge on travel.”Tourists over 55 years of age travel farther away from home, include two or more destinations in atrip, engage in more activities, travel with one or another household member and spend more per tripthan tourists, on an average,” observed Mr Lipman. This is unlike the average tourist in the workingage who may be weighed down by his back-pack as well as work pressure and other compulsions totake no more than a short holiday.
Retired tourists have no such compulsions even as they spendliberally from their retirement savings to see the world in a `now or never’ spirit.What may ultimately determine a travel decision is the desire to learn, discover new experiences andadd meaning to people’s lives. Cross-border family travel is becoming frequent and these trends areapparent in the growth of niche products developed by destinations, hotels and resorts.This demographic shift is breeding as a corollary a new set known as `Short Holiday Break’ travellersamong younger folks in double-income families. The concept of a shorter main holiday plus a series of breaks is not only born out of necessity but the norm.
The global crisis that shook 2008 to the core (and continues to do so) has impact in industries across the board. One of the most affected fields is tourism as it’s an elected excess and not a necessity. A recently released research by the Tourism Journalists Association shows that people will be more cautious in spending for leisure travels and will engage in more meaningful, rather than extravagant, vacations.
Technology is a driving force of change that presents opportunities for greater efficiencies and integration for improved guestservices. Technology has become a tourism businessactivity in development of strategic resourcesand is considered as a tool to increasecompetitiveness. Effective use of informationtechnology can make significant operationalimprovements. Advanced software andcommunication tools allow enlarging operationalefficiency, for example, orders may be made better, faster and cheaper.In addition, decision-making through decisionsupport tools, databases and modelling toolsassist the manager ’s job.
Thanks to expertsystems, sophisticated expertise can be met byany manager (Romanovs, 2000).
Technology changes the tourism business rules.More specifically:
Information on all tourist services is availablevirtually from all over the world. Potential client can be any resident of the world. More territorial boundaries restrict the number of customers. Decision making turns into a tourism specialist ineach component. Changes in customer service technology andservice personalization occur.
Marketing opportunities are expanding.Technology on wireless communication systemsenabling voice, text and data communication amongemployees, managers, departments and guests isnow being adapted by hotels. Comprised of intelligent system software and lightweight, hands-free or handheld communication devices, thesesystems allow hotel staff to deliver the bestcustomer service. Examples of wirelesscommunication solutions for the hospitality industryinclude: communication badges, food and drinksordering systems, as well as devices that allow hotelagents to check-in and check-out guests, processcredit cards, print receipts and program room keysanywhere in or nearby the hotel.Wireless technology offers, among others, thefollowing benefits for hotels and the quality of service they can provide to the guest: Increases staff productivity and reducesresponse time to satisfy guest requests. Improves overall guest satisfaction andservice.
Increases efficiency for restaurants (bars,cafeterias, etc.) and caterers by saving time,reducing human errors and by providinghigher quality customer service. Reduces queues at the reception desk andallows guests to check-in and check-outcloser to where their room is.
The global financial and economic downturn that affected tourism from 2007 through to 2010and beyond has cast substantial attention to the role that crisis events play in tourism. Theseconcerns have only been exacerbated by natural disasters, such as the 2010 Icelandic volcanic plume, pandemics, and the potential of future global change. The potential affect of crisisevents on international tourism is likely to increase both in size and frequency as tourism becomes increasingly hypermobile and the global economy even more interconnected. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) (2010) estimated that international touristarrivals fell by 4% in 2009.
The seeming increase in impacts of economic and financial downturns, politicalinstability or natural disaster on tourism are arguably not a result of any increase in suchevents but instead illustrate the way in which the world’s economies, transport systems, andmedia and communication networks have now become so integrated that when onedestination or region has been affected then the impacts can reverberate through the entiresystem.Many of the crises that affect tourism are crisis events that are of a specific duration and occur in an identifiable time and space, although their impacts may be longer lasting (Ren, 2000).The notion of an event is significant because the limited duration of a high impact crisis eventserves to enhance the attention a crisis may receive in the media and enhance the perceptionthat the event is of concern and should be responded too (Smith, 1990, 2005; Greening &Johnson, 2007).
Many of the crisis events that affect tourism have been occurring for millennia. Yet what haschanged is the dramatic growth in the scale of tourism and other human movement to theextent that the developed world is often described as hypermobile. The definition of hypermobility as “the maximization of physical movement” (Khisty & Zeitler, 2001, p. 598)is a useful way to characterise the vast growth in temporary mobility in aggregate form insome societies as well as a relatively small number of individuals of extremely frequenttravellers within them (Bell & Brown, 2006; Gössling, Ceron, Dubios, & Hall., 2009).There have been substantial changes in mobility and other processes of globalisation since thedevelopment of mass commercial aviation in the late 1960 and early 1970s.
This has meant that there has been a transition in aviation from being a luxury form of mobility for thewealthy few to being a relatively cheap means of mass transportation for large parts of leisureand business travellers in industrialized countries (Gössling et al., 2009). Shifts in access as aresult of improved affordability and availability also correspond with fundamental changes in perceptions of distance, place and space (e.g. Janelle, 1969; Urry, 2000; Gössling, 2002; Adeyet al., 2007). For many people, what was once a distant non-routine environment is now aneveryday routine environment (Hall, 2005a, b; Coles & Hall, 2006). According to Hall(2005a) the routinised space-time paths of those living at the start of this century… are not the same as those of people in 1984 when Giddens was writing or in the 1960swhen Hägerstrand was examining routine daily space-time trajectories.
Instead, because of advances in transport and communication technology, for a substantial proportion of the population in developed countries or for elites in developing countries being able to travel long-distances to engage in leisure behaviour (what one would usually describe as tourism)is now a part of their routine activities (Hall, 2005a, p. 24).The significance in the change of the nature of a routine environment is that the more people participate in such long-distance movement and the more destinations and places depend onsuch relatively fast, large-scale movements in economic terms, the more perceptions of crisisdevelop when such ‘normal’ movement is stopped or slowed down.
This point was made in acomment in The Guardian with respect to winter travel ‘chaos’ in the UK in December 2009as a result of heavy snowfalls. ‘My solution to winter travel chaos? Don’t travel. … Yet powered movement is a craving no government is willing to curb. Hypermobility is the totemof personal liberty. … Before the invention of jet travel, the idea of a winter holiday wasunthinkable for any but the very rich’ (Jenkins, 2009).
Natural disasters and anthropogenic environmental problems are given some significancegiven their impacts on travel and tourism at various scales as well as their potential to affectthe image of destinations (World Tourism Organization, 1998).