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In a sign that overtourism is becoming an unavoidable issue for the global travel industry, the World Travel & Tourism Council is planning to release a report on recommendations for travel brands on how to tackle the question.
Although many residents of destinations confronting the problem in their daily lives may not agree, the WTTC report would also communicate the benefits of tourism in cities like Venice and Barcelona, which both have been focal points for headlines about overtourism.
That’s the word from Gloria Guevara after her first week as the WTTC’s new CEO. During that initial week, she watched anti-tourism protests take root in European destinations such as Barcelona and sadly had to issue a statement condemning the August 17 terrorist attacks in Spain.
Diversifying destinations’ offerings are key to managing tourism growth no matter how their residents feel about visitors, Guevara told Skift August 22. “The governments don’t create jobs,” she said. “The private sector creates the jobs but we need to work with the government to create those jobs. The government wants to reduce poverty for their citizens and we want the same. We need to both have the same priorities to succeed.”
The WTTC isn’t known as an activist can-do organization so it remains to be seen what the contents of its upcoming recommendations on overtourism might be and whether they balance the needs of the tourism industry and local residents. After all, the WTTC has a stake in the outcome.
Still, the fact that one of the world’s largest travel industry organizations, which represents more than 150 travel brands across an array of sectors such as airlines, hotels and tourism boards, is working with some destinations experiencing overtourism to address the issues highlights how the complications of the trend have come to the fore.
Guevara said she understands the frustrations that residents in Barcelona, for example, are feeling as tourists crowd streets and restaurants once unknown to visitors. “Before tourism was so popular there, the activities in places like Barcelona were very different and residents are still adjusting to these new activities,” said Guevara.
In recent weeks, before the terrorist attacks and subsequent deaths of residents and tourists, Barcelona protesters had resorted to sabotaging rental bikes while city officials tried to curb the growth of sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb that often bring tourists to areas unequipped to handle mass tourism.
In Italy, Venice’s tourism industry is also in a crisis mode of sorts as a substantial number of residents fled tourists hotspots and moved away. The city last month launched a campaign to teach tourists how to respect, responsibility enjoy, and move about Venice.
So far neither city — and many others experiencing a crush of tourists — has come up with an effective plan to curtail or responsibly manage tourism growth.
But that may change if WTTC and more travel brands propose recommendations to destinations to help them define such a plan and if destinations and politicians listen.
Is WTTC Equipped to Play a Role In Remedying the Problem?
Guevara said her time as Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism (2010-2012) helped prepare her for moving to her new leadership position at WTTC.
In her new role she’ll help facilitate relationships between governments and the private sector – two sides that must come together to solve overtourism issues, she said.
“The global recession was just starting to hit Mexico when I became Secretary of Tourism and we needed to figure out how to diversify our tourism industry,” said Guevara. “Mexico was mostly known for its beaches in the past and our beaches are still popular but many travelers also know Mexico for many other cultural offerings now and know more destinations.”
Guevara believes she can help bridge the gap among various competing interests.
“I speak the language of the government, academia and private sector,” Guevara said. “My vision is to move this organization forward and take it to the next level. What I mean by that is that this is a sector that for many years has been taken for granted. When you ask other industries they don’t have a good understanding of the travel industry sometimes. My job is to work more closely with other industries and governments so that we can facilitate travel and growth at the same time.”
WTTC, which was founded in 1990, was encouraging destinations to manage tourism growth long before Guevara arrived at the helm. In 2015, the organization called on travel brands to adopt environmental, social and governance reporting practices, for example, and has run its annual Tourism For Tomorrow Awards since 2004. They recognize destinations and brands already working on projects and initiatives promoting sustainable tourism growth.
The organization has also met with more than 80 heads of state and presented them with an Open Letter on tourism to help them explain the value of tourism to their populations. WTTC also launched its “Is it too much to ask?” campaign earlier this year that encourages travel brands to pledge to practice and promote sustainable and eco-friendly tourism.
It’s unclear in what new way WTTC’s upcoming recommendations — Guevara was vague on the timing of their release — would differ from prior action plans.
Guevara said WTTC works with 184 governments around the world. “I think we’ve done a great job at communicating the value of tourism and making sure that governments understand the jobs that we create but I think there’s still an opportunity to work with other governments and try to find those synergies,” said Guevara.
Much of WTTC’s message about responsible tourism growth and practices likely hasn’t trickled down from travel businesses to their customers, who often need to hear it the most.
But helping more brands educate their customers on how to properly behave when they travel, and suggesting less congested yet exciting destinations to visit seems to be one of the top priorities Guevara plans to address as she settles in.
Lessons From Latin America
Guevara is WTTC’s first female and Latin American CEO — one of the only female and Latin American CEOs in such a capacity in the travel industry.
Guevara is a Mexican national who spent much of her early career in that country working for travel companies such as Sabre. She said the travel industry can learn a lot from consumer trends in Latin America and the region’s hospitality tradition.
“I would suggest taking a look at service in Latin America,” said Guevara. “In many places in Latin America it’s that service that is part of the DNA and culture. We have a saying throughout the region ‘mi casa tu casa’ [‘my home is your home’]. For travel companies that this is standard and that this is expected in the region. When Latin Americans travel, they are expecting this level of service and that’s also going on to some extent in places like China, too.”
“Adoption of social media and technology in Latin America and booking online and making comments and how travelers are using technology is also fascinating in Latin America,” she said.