City leaders in government, tourism, and economic development are collaborating more strategically to grow their leisure and business travel sectors in alignment with the interests of their local communities and industries.
Traditionally in cities, tourism boards have strived to attract higher numbers of visitors, while economic development agencies focused on strengthening the local business community and infrastructure. Different government departments worked with each side, but in the big scheme of things, there often wasn’t a lot of collaboration between the people stewarding the growth of their visitor economy and local economy.
Today, the public and private sectors promoting tourism and economic development are collaborating more intentionally, in both the leisure and meetings segments, to benefit a wider breadth of area residents and drive local industry growth.
Beginning with the leisure travel industry, every city is attempting to diversify visitor spending and push incoming travelers beyond the most frequented tourism areas. This is designed to alleviate congestion and spread tourism dollars more evenly into underserved regions. At the extreme end, cities like Barcelona, Venice, and Reykjavik are suffering acute overtourism that threatens to destroy the cultural fabric of their neighborhoods.
To increase visitor dispersal, cities and countries are promoting local culinary and cultural tourism in partnership with regional organizations, spurred by the demand for more authentic travel experiences. For these initiatives to deliver a positive return on investment, it’s critical for tourism organizations to work effectively with their local government and economic development agencies to secure the necessary public funds and business community buy-in.
For example, the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT) launched the European Region of Gastronomy Award & Platform in 2016. It designates regions with strong culinary traditions beyond the major gateway cities, such as Aarhus in Denmark, Riga in Latvia, and Spain’s cava country outside Barcelona. To earn the designation, regions must prepare comprehensive bids showing a coalition of support among the public, private, and academic sectors, and they’re required to produce new research on culinary tourism development for the benefit of the entire continent.
“The aim of the award is not just to celebrate the region’s great gastronomy,” said Diane Dodd, president of the institute. “It will only be given if the region proposes a year of events and projects that will kick-start a process that ultimately will contribute to a better quality of life in the region, by highlighting distinctive food cultures, educating for better health and sustainability, as well as stimulating gastronomic innovation. And curiously, it is Europe’s lesser-known regions that are providing a treasure trove for the more adventurous creative and food-loving travelers.”
Likewise, Tourism Australia’s “Restaurant Australia” campaign and various partner platforms like Luxury Lodges of Australia have been successful in driving visitation to secondary markets such as Tasmania, Perth, and the Northern Territories. Tourism Ireland, meanwhile, invested tens of millions of dollars to develop the “Wild Atlantic Way” and “Ancient East” marketing campaigns and self-drive itineraries along the western and eastern coasts, which boosted economic activity beyond Dublin.
Repositioning Meetings as Economic Accelerators
In the meetings and events sector, destinations are working more intentionally to attract conferences that align with their priority growth sectors in advanced industries, ranging from clean tech to life sciences.
For example, the UK Department of International Trade has prioritized a number of sectors where England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are world leaders. The government is now providing funds and ministerial support to cities across the UK to help attract conferences aligned with their respective advanced industry clusters. The initiative benefits host destinations in terms of increased knowledge share and potential outside investment. At the same time, the strategy also provides an attractive value add for North American conference organizers and attendees who benefit from collaborating with thought leaders specific to their fields.
VisitBritain’s new research this year validates that, detailing how conference owners and organizers seek destinations with a large cluster of aligned industry leaders, as much as other factors relating to value, access, and infrastructure.
Building on that, VisitScotland Business Events launched a new two-year initiative in November 2017 to attract conference planners active in Scotland’s growth industries. Under the banner of “Scotland: Where Ideas Become Legend,” the strategy is designed to increase the exposure of Scotland as a leading destination for high-tech conferences, beyond the country’s historic charm and tourism assets.
“This is a way to position Scotland as very forward-thinking and innovative in research and academia, and give that more visibility as it relates to business events and conferences,” said Richard Knight, senior marketing manager for VisitScotland Business Events. “Conferences and business events in these sectors are really a bridge to further investments in Scotland, so we’re linking those to continue driving growth in our economy.”
Beyond that, the Legends campaign illustrates how regional and national governments are collaborating with local tourism organizations and their travel partners to deliver benefits for both destinations and visitors. While not a new concept, public-private partnerships are becoming a lot more intentional and structured to deliver greater and more measurable impacts.
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Photo credit: Promoters of tourism and economic development are better collaborating to benefit area residents and diversify visitor spend. Patricia Mafra