With over twelve years working in tourism with tourism boards, aid organizations, DMOs, tour operators, travel brands and NGOs, we've seen a lot of — and have helped build — what works. Along the way, we've also seen what really doesn't work, what squanders resources.
And yet, we see these mistakes repeated over and over again.
To help you avoid these common mistakes, we've created this quick “don’t make these tourism development mistakes” rough guide to tourism development and investment.
The following areas can be effective if done well and executed at the right time. However, more often than not they serve as tourism development money pits which offer “shiny object” appeal to those who don’t know better.
1) “Build it and they will come”
This applies to donor-funded, private and public-private initiatives alike. The assumption is that once a tourism product is built, travelers and tour companies will just magically know about it and thus arrive in numbers. We’ve witnessed this faulty rationale at work as inadequate attention and resources are devoted to building market linkages to independent travelers and trade — all because “we know our product is really good.”
2) Blogger, Influencer and Media Campaigns
While thoughtful and deliberate campaigns and selective invitations and itineraries can be highly impactful (and quite often, essential), a lot of money is quickly wasted in this department. Why? Lots of reasons, first of which is that stakeholders attach themselves to the idea that “if only we got some promotion” — all their tourism problems and underlying structural issues would somehow go away. Without a proper plan that aligns positioning, new tourism products, and target audiences, these campaigns blow a lot of their potential, especially considering the money spent. There's a better way.
3) Big, Flashy Websites
Practical websites with targeted, useful and high quality content that answer key traveler questions (especially for regions and local destinations) are important. They help make destinations more accessible and make it easy to plan, organize and book trips. We've even used regional websites as organizing principles for destination development and to force information gathering.
However, the usual big website undertaking is more often fluff — all appearance and little practical and useful traffic-driving substance. Unless you have millions to blow on branding, websites ought to be a source of practical information, positioning and marketing (for consumers and/or trade). Otherwise they are a time and money sink. Humorous Behavioral Note: Watch how everyone becomes an expert when it comes to design, photos and videos — and how they love to argue about logos and colors. While those items need to be considered, they are often another way to hide from and dodge the real issues of creating quality content that travelers actually need, want and consume — on your way to converting them to visitors and motivating them to book trips.
4) Tourism Offices and TICs
Physical infrastructure and offices can make for the appearance of progress, but they’re often good show ponies that waste money. A thoughtfully resourced Tourist Information Center (TIC) or DMO office, in time, can make sense in high trafficked destinations.
However, especially in the early stages of tourism development, tourism offices often consume time and money building or renting a pretty office that is far away from where actual prospective tourists are doing their research, asking questions and booking experiences — online, in the digital world. The real work is finding traveler pain points, answering questions, communicating, and interacting with travelers — in digital spaces — as they research destinations and plan and book experiences.
5) Trade Fairs and Trade Shows
While attending a trade fair (e.g., ITB Berlin, WTM) and even having a stand *can* be a good investment, it’s usually a poorly planned-for, poorly positioned waste of money since research and preparation are often overlooked and actively avoided. Again, that “build it and they will come” mindset makes an appearance. Just because you have a cute stand does not mean that everyone will come find you.
Instead, what makes participation in trade shows effective is all the work that happens beforehand — researching relevant trade contacts, setting up meetings, developing an effective pitch. Having the actual product, experience and destination positioning goods to deliver also helps. All this is not as sexy or as fun as creating a fancy stand. Positioning, meeting preparation and execution — often over a long arc — is how real tourism business and deals get done.
6) Big Branding Campaigns
Branding and positioning is important, but there exists a rampant temptation to think branding is about design elements and logos when it’s first about substance and identity. In tourism development, quick and dirty branding work in line with market demands and trends can be done in conjunction and parallel to other work (e.g., product development, capacity training) — provided it’s done by someone who knows what they are doing.