The reckoning stage has passed. Destination marketers should actively and urgently tackle tourism engagement and education — because community-driven pushback is only going to increase. That could impact recovery and growth, with the future of the tourism workforce depending on it.
American and Canadian sentiment on tourism in their backyard may be at an all-time positive high, but less than half of U.S. and Canada residents feel they are consulted when it comes to how tourism is developed and managed. Nearly 50 percent also feel tourism taxes should go into local services rather than promotion, while the Gen-Z segment in both destinations show a low understanding and perception of tourism a future career path.
These are the alarming results from the latest survey on national resident sentiment towards tourism, conducted by market research firm Longwoods International, in association with Destinations International, spelling potential trouble ahead for the travel industry.
It all points to destination management organizations needing to urgently tackle the ongoing lack of education on tourism and broaden the engagement with their residents.
“The one thing we’ve seen in the four years we’ve done this annual study, time and again: a significant portion of residents feel that they’re uninformed and what their biggest frustration is — the first time they hear about anything happening in tourism is when they wake up in the morning and read about in the paper,” said Amir Eylon, president and CEO of Longwoods International.
“And so they tend to have this more negative mindset because they feel that things are happening, they don’t have any say and they don’t have any input, they don’t have any knowledge.”
The survey, conducted in Canada as well for the first time, fielded similar questions to 1,000 Canadian residents and 4,000 U.S. residents, and it does point to a disconnect between what residents think of tourism in general — a majority 65 percent of Americans, a marked jump since 2020, and 75 percent of Canadians believe it’s positive for their destinations — and what they feel about how tourism is run.
“Every destination organization needs to constantly engage and have that community engagement strategy that is constantly employed, because the more people you inform about what’s happening, the more people you engage in the process the more likely you are to have stakeholder support for tourism matters and issues,” said Eylon.
Gen-Z and Tourism Careers: A Challenge
Of great concern and focus for the U.S. and Canadian travel industry, based on this survey, should also be the future of the tourism workforce. In running generational comparisons for questions on tourism employment, the survey reveals that only 39 percent of Gen-Z respondents believe there are opportunities for career advancement in the tourism industry, compared to 57 percent of Millennials.
In further dividing the groups between those who said they were informed about tourism versus those who weren’t, the results showed that among the uninformed 42 percent said that they didn’t see the career opportunity. The results are also low across the board among the uninformed when it comes to desirable pay and benefits, including perceptions of low-paying and seasonal jobs.
Longwoods International’s Eylon said that the gap was so big between Gen-Z and the other generations, including the Millennials, that there’s clearly something causing them not to consider tourism as a career and there’s a serious need for education.
Community Buy-In Remains Key
The survey results happen to be a nod to Skift Megatrends’ prediction this year that host communities will become more engaged in the future of their destinations, and that measuring resident sentiment — which has emerged as a key performance indicator out of the pandemic — will need to go beyond a check box activity.
“Especially during times of crisis with the global pandemic, the way Canadians and Americans view the travel and tourism industry is vital information to our destination organization members as they continue to work with their community stakeholders to plan for continued recovery,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, in a release.
It’s clear indeed that a more inclusive and transparent approach remains key to earning the buy-in from local residents if U.S. and Canadian tourism boards are to navigate travel’s rebound successfully amid social pushback and political disruptions, those that are unfolding at present and those that are sure to emerge in the future.
Photo credit: A drum circle gathering at Malcom X Park in Washington, D.C. Elvert Barnes / Flickr Commons