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Finding the balance between liveability and visitability

by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold on 22.10.2013

The inaugural South African Travel and Tourism Summit hosted by Gauteng Tourism and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) in association with South African Tourism was held in Johannesburg this past week. 

This year’s theme explored “The Value of the Traveller”. Read more about my key insights on the new traveller here.

Chris Buckingham, previous CEO of Destination Melbourne, shared great insights on the link between liveability and visitability. Whilst many believe liveability is the ultimate goal, Chris argued that without visitability destinations run the risk of becoming sterile and boring places to visit. As a result, the valuable contribution from tourism could be lost.

Tourism has a critical role to play in the preservation of cultural identity, economic development and as a mechanism for enriching urban life. Urban tourism, in particular, triggers a constant investment in infrastructure, promotion and conservation ultimately benefiting tourists, local residents and surrounding regions.

Chris supports the notion that city brands should play a more prominent role in the destination marketing of countries and regions.

We not only live in or visit cities; we evolve together with them.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has recognized the need to understand and study more closely the city as a dynamic and organic element in the lives of citizens and visitors. We not only live in or visit cities; we evolve together with them. Creating more liveable cities mean creating better places to visit.

The UNWTO initiated the “Cities” project in 2012 in association with 21 of the world’s top cities. This resulted in the first comprehensive report on City Tourism and the Istanbul Declaration signed at the 1st Global Summit on City Tourism hosted by Istanbul in 2012.

Key issues explored include the role of tourism in city development and how best to manage the increasing number of urban tourists - which now accounts for 80% of the world’s travellers - responsibly, the role of tourism in improving the quality of life of local citizens, innovation in city marketing and the creation of “smart cities”.

I will explore the role of cities in destination marketing a little further in a next blog post, but in the meantime, here are my insights from the recent UNWTO Summit on City Tourism.

Visitors and locals need not be in conflict. Being good hosts is the key to becoming a more visitable destination. 

Chris stressed that visitors and locals need not be in conflict and that even in the world’s most liveable cities, there is room for improving the way we look after visitors. By encouraging locals to adopt the mindset of the host and focus on the needs of visitors, we are ensuring that tourism makes a meaningful contribution to the quality of life in our cities and surrounding regions.

Some key elements of greater visitability include safety, access and transport, a sense of community, good infrastructure that serves the people, integrated provision of visitor information, welcoming, friendly and informed locals and value for money.

The genuine appreciation of visitors and what visitors contribute to the growth of a local economy was singled out as a key contributor to Melbourne’s success as destination.

This underlines the importance of the in-destination offering and provision of excellent visitor services that help to navigate the visitor effectively through a destination.

I have always argued that visitor services is the delivery arm of destination marketing and ideally tourism boards should be closely involved in both the marketing and the in-destination delivery of the visitor experience. Local citizens should also be made part of the destination marketing of their cities and regions with tourism boards providing platforms for content sharing and conversations on the importance of tourism.

A key takeout from the Summit was that a lot more attention needed to be placed on the visitor’s in-destination experience in South Africa. 

It is crucial to avoid a disconnect between the dream sold during the destination marketing phase and the actual visit.

If the actual experience does not deliver on the marketing or brand promise made, the destination will suffer negative consequences and be at the mercy of the visitor who as we now know will respond with negative commentary on the destination through social media networks and word of mouth. This means the investment made in destination marketing can be lost in a moment.

This is where practical issues like a city's legibility, visitor collateral like guides, maps, visitor apps and good visitor information coupled with friendly welcoming locals who appreciate the value of the visitor become very important.

Local citizens should be part of the destination marketing of their cities and regions.

It appears from the latest trends and the growing importance of social media - which has placed the visitor at the centre of destination marketing - that the in-destination phase in the customer journey might just be the most important stage of the customer journey for destinations and the key to the future of destination marketing.

I will take a closer look at destination marketing and why breaking with tradition can make destinations stand out in a next blog post.

Mariette du Toit-Helmbold is an international destination marketing and tourism thought leader and brand developer. She owns Destinate, a tourism marketing company, and was CEO of Cape Town Tourism for more than 9 years. Follow her onTwitter and Destinate on Twitter or Facebook.

Images courtesy of Andrew Brauteseth, Gauteng Tourism and Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism