Navigating Shifting Sands: Tourism Research in Changing Times
By: Carolyn Parker, Research Director at Angus & Associates Ltd
“We need a Greta Thunberg of tourism” suggested a keynote speaker at the Travel and Tourism Research Association International Conference. The ritzy end of Melbourne’s Collins Street was a curious backdrop to the challenges laid out to, and discussed by, tourism researchers from around the world, writes Angus & Associates’ Carolyn Parker.
The Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) International Conference held at the end of June and hosted for the first time by the organisation’s Asia Pacific chapter was an event that set out to explore ‘shifting sands – tourism research in changing times’.
As a first time attendee, the event was notable to me for the sense of community (“you’ll feel like you’ve come home” I was advised by an Australian peer). Representing around thirty countries, delegates generally faced the same research challenges and had much to share with, and learn from, each other. Event evaluations facilitated by Visit North Carolina are in essence the same as those Angus & Associates’ conducts here in New Zealand. At lunch I sat next to an academic who studied an event in Europe that we also studied when it came to New Zealand as part of its’ world circuit. In Japan they are researching the effect of different messages about introducing an accommodation tax in a mountain village (turns out the message makes no difference – what does is the past experience of visitors in paying accommodation taxes, and their loyalty to the destination).
The event brought together academic and practitioner researchers from around the world. The delegate list comprised a small contingent from New Zealand and representatives from destination marketing and management organisations, government officials, academics and commercial researchers and consultants (think Travel Portland, Statistics Canada, Visit Guam, Griffith University, and Destination Analysts).
Historically a North American centric group TTRA in recent years has taken steps to be a truly international Association, bringing the International Conference ‘down under’ a very practical step in delivering on this mission. Although, the Grand Hyatt at the glitzy ‘Paris End’ of Melbourne’s Collins Street, bursting with Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, Prada, Hermes, and Dolce & Gabbana-type boutiques, in some ways felt like it could be any number of places around the world.
As we’re starting to see in New Zealand, destinations are exploring the use of big data to compliment more traditional data sources. The feeling was however, that traditional data will retain an important role. We learnt about the process of establishing International Visitor Surveys in several Pacific Island nations from the International Finance Corporation, and about options for measuring Airbnb-type activity from AirDNA. We were also challenged by the view of some that visitor numbers are ultimately a vanity metric – these delegates suggested that it’s the value of visitors (in all senses of the word) that really matters.
Also of interest was research used to assist destinations facing challenging circumstances. The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board took us through research they conducted to inform and evaluate their Everyone is Welcome initiative, launched in response to negative sentiment towards the US (for the marketing gurus among you check out L.A. Tourism’s stunt to create one of the world’s largest, human-powered welcome signs – done in the flight path of LAX). Lorraine Taylor from Colorado talked with me about her work researching the role of the local tourism organisation in the recovery of the tourism industry from the Gold King Mine Spill (and having looked at situations New Zealand tourism organisations have faced in recent years as part of this).
How to achieve sustainability in terms of the access of visitors to unique and important places was a theme that emerged in multiple ways – visitation of Tane Mahuta here in New Zealand was discussed, as was access to Hawaiian waterfalls, remote villages in the Solomon Islands, and Aboriginal lands in Victoria set to become a world heritage site. We were challenged with considering how tourism research can best serve these places and those connected to the land so that sustainable solutions are found.
So where did we end up with our ‘shifting sands’? We were challenged to be brave with big data (but were also cautioned that some opportunities may die as consumers reject tracking activity); we were urged not to ignore the seniors market (many have been in the ‘dreaming’ phase of their trip for 30-40 years, and they’re excited!); to consider how we might think differently if we considered visitors to rather be short-term residents; and that for some popular sites enforced ‘rest periods’ would likely be very beneficial (but potentially problematic for those trying to address seasonality issues). Let’s just say the sands continue to shift!
Shifting Sands, the Next Economy & Tourism
by Dianne Dredge, The Tourism CoLab
Sand is awesome. It gets in your hair, in your shoes, on your beach towel, and in your food. Sand challenges the comfort zone. It’s also the original, all-natural version of ‘serious play’ where creativity and innovation are needed to solve complex problems — like building that turreted sandcastle complete with moat and drawbridge. So when TTRA’s 50th International Conference in Melbourne was themed “Navigating the shifting sands: Research in changing times”, I grabbed my bucket and spade and headed to Melbourne!
Challenging the status quo
Australia, and indeed the the global community, is in need of some very serious discussions about the future of tourism. Serious, long range, honest discussions. Uncomfortable discussions. But also creative and constructive discussions that acknowledge the shifting sands that are transforming tourism.
Most tourism conferences usually start with the unquestioned premise that growth is good. Passenger movements, bed nights and per capita spend remain the key metrics by which governments and tourism organisations measure their success. It’s a model that is built on the assumption that the resources on which growth is based are infinite, and that our social and environmental systems can continue to absorb the impacts resulting from this growth. This year the TTRA 2019 conference organizers took a courageous step by inviting two keynote speakers who were always going to challenge that assumption:
Prof Tim Flannery, mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist, conservationist, explorer, public scientist and Australian of the Year (2007). Tim Flannery’s keynote was a powerful and very personal account of his participation in a Reconciliation Ceremony on the island of Malaita in the Solomon Islands. To his long list of expertise above, I would also add storyteller and sage! His message was clear: tourism and travel can unleash complex relationships and cultural sensitivities. Tourism needs to be culturally appropriate, respectful, and the level of change acceptable to those communities should be set by the community itself, not outsiders.
Professor Flannery’s recounting of his personal journey and vulnerabilities in making the reconciliation trek, left no doubt that travel can be a transformative personal journey, especially when mutual authentic exchange occurs. The Reconciliation Ceremony that Professor Flannery attended was in response to open wounds arising from historical conflicts between locals and outsiders. Left untended for some 80 years, difficult relationships between indigenous people and travellers had escalated to dangerous levels. In Flannery’s story, it became clear that the impacts of tourism can take generations to appear, and even more time to heal.
Prof Pauline Sheldon, University of Hawaii Professor Emerita, United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Ulysses prize winner for contributions to knowledge in sustainable tourism, and TTRA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, was the second keynote. The remainder of this article focuses on unpacking her contributions.
Professor Emerita Pauline Sheldon gave an inspiring keynote that highlighted a number of trends that are converging to reshape our economic, social and political systems. Drawing on diverse works including the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Johan Rockström’s call to recognise planetary boundaries, Kate Raworth’s work on Doughnut Economics, and Naomi Klein’s treatise on the failures of our current economic system, Professor Sheldon called for a rethink of the current ‘growth is good’ discourse. Can the planet really cope with international arrivals growing at a rate of around 3.3% per annum and reaching 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals in 2030?
Professor Sheldon’s address was a call to think — really think — about those figures and what that means for our planet and its fragile ecosystems, for places (and especially those already flooded with visitors), and for people, cultural traditions, languages, values and ways of life.
The climate crisis, biodiversity loss, water and food security, labour and employment issues associated with Industry 4.0, and the challenges of inclusive development, are just some of the challenges that are changing our relationship with the Earth and with capitalism. But tourism, enjoying seven decades of positive growth, and characterized predominantly by SMEs with low propensity to innovate, has been slow to acknowledge, let alone take up the challenge of transitioning to this next economy.
It’s clear we need to shift our thinking about tourism — and quite dramatically. We need a new relationship with capitalism, and a new relationship with Nature. We also need to redefine what we think of success in tourism, and to put the wellbeing of planet, people and places — not just profit and growth — on the agenda. In short, Professor Sheldon suggested we need to move from the ‘Me’ to the ‘We-economy’.
Professor Sheldon argued for a broader interpretation and valuing of the different kinds of capital that can be created in tourism. We also need frameworks and metrics to help us learn and better understand and manage the diverse kinds of value generated by tourism. Acknowledging the value of alternative capitals, it’s possible to start re-imagining and re-engineering the tourism system. Identifying and measuring alternative capitals helps to value a wider range of material and non-material resources that are generated by and/or used in tourism. It also brings to light the impacts associated with the way different capitals are traded, exchanged, accumulated, spent, and exploited.
Diverse Economies of Tourism
Some interesting conceptual work over the years traces and describes diverse economies in general, and more recently in tourism. We know these economies by different labels, but all are trying to capture alternative capitals or describe other kinds of non-financial transactions (e.g. emotional, psychological, and relational). The almost tunnel-vision emphasis on the accumulation of financial capital, growth and profit over the last century, and its acceleration since the 1980s, has meant we’ve lost sight of these other kinds of capitals. We’ve forgotten how to value benefits and costs of our social, environmental and economic transactions in broader and more holistic terms.
Tourism is full of diverse economies, and some, such as the collaborative, gig, and experience economies, have had a transformative effect on tourism in recent years. These economies generate diverse value and other kinds of capitals well beyond financial value. Sharing, for example, is said to contribute to trust, deeper social connection, cultural understanding, and so on. These diverse economies — and what’s being traded and shared, and the impacts and motivations of these exchanges— are deserving of more attention if we are to navigate the shifting sands of tourism.
Highlighting the work of Anna Pollock, John Fullerton, Daniel Christian Wahl and others, Professor Sheldon has suggested that we look beyond sustainability towards the regenerative economy. The regenerative economy requires redefinition of our economic systems with the key aim of supporting thriving, living systems. It requires redesigning our industrial system of production and consumption around circular patterns of resource and energy use and draws inspiration ecology. It also draws attention to the need to move from a vicious cycle of resource exploitation to a virtuous cycle of nurturing regenerative cultures.
Professor Sheldon briefly touched upon a number of cases where these ideas have progressed into something more concrete, but argued more work is needed to measure and demonstrate the value of such approaches. In all the locations discussed, change-making work is a work in progress.
The Aloha Challenge in Hawai’i is one such project that identifies locally and culturally appropriate and relevant goals, metrics and indicators that track the State’s progress toward achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given the importance of tourism to this economy, it’s a useful case for conference participants to delve into.
But changing the system won’t happen by itself. Professor Sheldon ended her presentation with a reflection on the need to change mindsets in order to progress real, lasting change in tourism. Due to the long boom in tourism, mindsets can be locked into certain ways of thinking, so her call to action included the following:
- Nurture human values, encourage caring, and how all tourism stakeholders can take personal responsibility. The rise of the purpose economy illustrates that tourism can be both profitable and address a higher purpose.
- Overcome locked-in mindsets by opening up a debate about new economic thinking. Educate and involve everyone in these discussions.
- Create and implement new metrics that reflect a holistic approach to capitals, to investment, to the regeneration of the natural assets and social resources that maintain quality of life and planetary well-being. These metrics should also help us learn what to do, not just measure our performance.
- Support those who are building the bridges and forging new pathways between sectors, silos, and disciplines. We need innovative thinkers to create new working contexts and institutional landscapes for the change that is needed.
The shifting sands described in these keynotes were a highlight of the TTRA 2019 conference. The ideas, cases, and challenges laid out are the small grains of sand that will undoubtedly provide participants with a lot of serious play opportunities as they head back to their daily work. But they are the materials through which sandcastles are built, and change happens. Like I said, sand is awesome.
Four Reasons I’ll be attending Marketing Outlook Forum in October
by Jennifer Griswold, Research and Analytics Manager, Wyoming Office of Tourism
The Marketing Outlook Forum is my number one conference for the year. Matching marketing and research in the tourism world is a researcher’s fantasy come to life. MOF is the place the magic occurs between great ideas and great results. Between the brilliant people that attend, the actionable forecasts and outlooks, new tools and trends available and how destinations are leveraging them you can get almost everything you need to plan the upcoming year. Below are my top four reasons to attend MOF.
Reason #1: Networking
Of course networking is the number one reason for attending any conference. Having that face-to-face time with your peers and the people you engage with and respect is imperative to making connections, building trust and credibility and learning new ideas. At MOF, there are several times to network as ask thought leaders questions on what they would do in your shoes. You can attend the destination breakfast and roundtable where there is an open Q&A forum where you can ask questions of a room full of researchers. Half the sessions at the conference are roundtable format, so you can exchange ideas with peers during sessions and breaks.
Reason #2: International Market Outlook
No where else can you get NTTO, U.S. Travel and researchers from almost every state together talking about international travel markets. This is the best opportunity for learning the latest international developments and how it will impact the visitor economy for your state, your city and your nation. Forecasting, currency valuation, and current events all go into the next year’s market update.
Reason #3: New Marketing Tools
Something special about MOF is the opportunity for marketers and researchers to learn about new tools available in marketing, product developments and case studies. In 2017, there was a large panel of TripAdvisor, ADARA, Arrivalist, and others discussing their latest data-driven marketing tools.
Reason #4: Case Studies
If you are having trouble seeing how marketing and research work hand-in-hand, there are numerous case studies available during sessions. Marketing executives discuss how they used research in their strategies to cultivate new marketing executions that performed above and beyond. Take these ideas and how-tos and go forth and multiply because this is the real meat of the conference.
It also showcases how print usage in US travel is far from being in decline and has held firm and even grown slightly over the last decade. Still around half of US travelers still use print at some point in their trip planning or travels each year. Print is showing continued strength in travel but certainly the role of print has shifted towards a far greater emphasis on inspiration and motivation. For more on the role of print – see our research summary from partners such as Destination Analysts and Longwoods in our white paper, The Value of Print.
Not surprisingly, a look at different generations of US travelers shows a far higher mobile, UGC and social usage among younger, Gen Y travelers. However still just under half of all Baby Boomers use traveler reviews and UGC in trip planning and almost one-third use social media content posted by friends/family.
This research highlights how content and media planning needs to respond to a highly complex, multimedia, fragmented marketplace. US Travelers are accessing more information from more places than ever before. Considering how to deliver your message across multiple channels and media types is key as is the ability to generate “cut through”. Measurement of results – though still highly imperfect, is essential to understand which content, creative, media and channels are working – and what are not.
Check out the companion blog “The Rise of the Hyper Informed Traveler” for added context and detail on these recommendations.
- “The Hyper-Informed Traveler“ The complex, fragmented & expanding media use of US leisure travelers 2008 – 2018
- “The Rise of the Hyper Informed Traveler“, Blog by Chris Adams, September 2017
- Destination Analysts, Miles’ research partner in measuring and reporting on media use by US leisure travelers
- Value of Print, research summary of independent research from Destination Analysts, Longwoods and additional partners
It’s hard to beat a lizard laden, sun shiny, ocean retreat like the Biltmore Hotel in Miami, but add in the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) conference and you’ve got my attention.
I quite enjoyed a number of the talks. Michael Rodenburgh from IPSOS Canada spoke about behavioural data and offered some fascinating tidbits about where people go to and come from during the tourism and travel customer decision journey. Passive behavioural data collection is a fabulous data collection tool and if you’re careful about obtaining explicit consent, I’m a big fan of it.
I was fascinated by a talk that Thomas Roth and David Paisley from Community Marketing and Insights gave about research with people who are LGBTQ+. Terminology seems to be in a permanent state of evolution and I never know what the most current respectful terms are. Needless to say, Tom and Dave will now be my go-to experts.
I was delighted to speak on the main stage Thursday morning about AI, chatbots, and voice search (my slides are below). I shared results from a Sklar Wilton & Associates white paper showing that the general population is fairly knowledgeable about the state of AI. AI can now write newspaper articles about anything you ask of it, AI can create humour that people actually laugh at, in some sense AI can even read your mind, and Google’s millions of dollars have allowed them to create an AI voice that is practically indistinguishable from the human voice. Of course, AI isn’t perfect and Joy Buolamwini of M.I.T.’s Media Lab has conducted research showing how facial recognition technology has trouble recognizing dark faces.
Technology for the regular folk who don’t have millions of research dollars backing us up has progressed to such a point where it is useful for customer service reps, marketers, and market researchers. Customers regularly use AI to book flights and hotels whether through chatbots on Facebook or voice assistants, we can now use AI moderators from companies like Quester to conduct surveys with anyone who has a voice assistant, and chatbots from companies like Elsient to conduct text surveys.
As fabulous as AI is, people are still unmatched for their ethics, emotions, and genuine caring for other people. This is what market researchers bring to the research table. Sure, we bring tech. Tech speeds things up and helps reduce technical errors. But people bring research results to life.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the diversity of speakers, put your hands up, they’re playing our song, 54% of speakers were women. Rock on, TTRA!
Thank you Kathy and Scott for putting on a fabulous conference. We’re off to Melbourne Australia next year!
Tourism is a vital economic driver for many cities, and with the ability to collect GPS and credit card data, CVBs and DMOs can leverage data in many new ways. Utilizing data can allow destination marketers to better understand their visitors, market to the right geographic areas, and create visitor packages that lead to longer visitor stays. Tourism analytics is an important tool for any city’s marketing programs to be successful.