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Insights from the UNWTO Global Summit on City Tourism

by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold on 01.10.2013

The 2nd UNWTO Summit on City Tourism was held in Moscow from the 19 – 20th September. I was invited to attend the Summit and speak on “Innovation in City Marketing”.

The age of the urban tourist

Cities now constitute the battleground for visitors with urban travellers making up the greatest percentage of potential and actual visitors in the global tourism industry. Up to 80% of all international tourists travel to a city and explore the surrounds thereafter. City trips increased with 13% in 2012 as opposed to sun and beach holidays that grew with only 1%.

The rapid growth of city tourism will have a dynamic influence on destinations and the travel industry in the years to come. For destinations and the industry to benefit, it is important to understand the dynamics of city tourism and the unique needs of the urban tourist.

The ultimate escape

For many travellers to “escape” does not mean a wilderness experience, but rather immersing themselves into a new city destination where they can lose themselves for a few days in the anonymity and everyday life of cities.

The urban tourist wants to walk the streets and experience life as a citizen of that city - exploring and finding its pulse in the streets and communities which form it. Cities appeal to a broader market of travellers who see cities as the epicentres of modern, living culture. Cities are easy to reach and they have a lot to offer. Cities are also complex, ever-evolving, interesting and full of contrast.

I have become quite obsessed with observing the city, not through a long lens, but through experiences which allow me to dissect it - London, by Rasiq Fataar

For insight on what makes the urban tourist tick read this blog post by Rashiq Fataar.

A deep desire for a more meaningful existence

There is now a far greater focus on enjoyment and the enrichment of our lives rather than just the cost of an experience. As John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “GDP measures everything except that which gives real value to life”.

This growing yearning for authenticity, accountability and responsible living is key to understanding today’s human and travel landscape. The deep need to connect emotionally has given way to new, more affordable and accessible forms of enjoyment that will focus on the human and interrelational dimension of the human race. A good example is the popularity of a Bo-Kaap cooking safari in Cape Town and the response it gets from around the globe.

Immersed into the streets of Istanbul - by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold

A connected world

Cities connect people. Urban tourism has a critical role to play in the preservation of cultural identity and fostering a greater understanding and mutual respect of each other.

I have always had a problem with the word “tolerance” and believe passionately that travel can take the world beyond mere tolerance to a greater acceptance, respect and peace.

I love the fact that cities are cultural bridges connecting the world and showcasing dynamic living cultures. Spending just a few days in a city can enrich your life, change your perceptions and broaden your perspective on the world. Read about my first introduction to Moscow here.

Going underground in Moscow - by Mariette du Toit-Helmbold

Inspirational hubs of innovation

Cities attract talent. 

Technology is an enabler and people are starting to see design and creativity as part of the solution to a future world where we are both independent and part of a community. The time spent in a destination is now the most important part of the destination marketing cycle fuelled by the web and social media. This along with the shift from mass messaging and marketing to direct personal customer marketing is the key for the future of city marketing with investment in customer-centred innovation a necessity.

The UNWTO has recognised 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 as dynamic instigators of change. Creating more liveable cities mean creating better places to visit.

Greater responsibility

There is a strong focus on ethics with citizens and travellers demanding more sustainable and responsible places to live and visit.  At the same time, there is a greater appreciation for spaces that are harmonious and well cared-for, with nature as a priority both in terms of people’s enjoyment of it and our role in conserving nature for generations to come.

Liveable cities are more desirable places to visit

Liveable desirable Copenhagen - by Skye Grove

Size does not matter, the story does

Size does not matter, but a city’s ability to capture the imagination and define itself as having a unique sense of place - not perfect, but liveable, interesting, and real with real stories. Stories connect us and make a place interesting. Its citizens and the visitors who discover its story within the layers of the city they uncover best tell a city’s story.

The playing field has levelled

The web and social media has levelled the playing field somewhat, making it possible for challenger brand cities to take advantage of new trends in consumer behaviour and digital marketing to compete with long established traditional city brands like London and New York.

Word of mouth through social media is the most powerful tool for any destination marketer today. It is important for cities to mobilise more local voices through the on-line networks of citizens and visitors – encouraging the creation and sharing of fresh, authentic content, which will continue to attract interest and more visitors for cities.

The success of Cape Town’s destination marketing illustrates the magic that happens when tourism officials stand back and allow local citizens to be marketers of their own city. The authenticity achieved cannot be replicated or bought.

In June 2013, Cape Town Tourism won the Travel and Leisure SMITTY Award for Best Overall Use of Social Media globally and most recently Cape Town Tourism’s Facebook campaign, Send Your Facebook Profile to Cape Town, won a Cannes Lions Gold Award for Ogilvy & Mather and a Gold Loerie just this past month.

Mobility gives cities the edge

The tourist of today is hyper connected, well-informed, multichannel and demanding. 80% of world's population is now connected through technology and the web. In Spain alone 2,7m apps are downloaded per day!

The focus must be on improved user experiences and mobility. To stand out, cities must make it easier for customers with integration of travel and destination information presented in a user-friendly and mobile format.

Cities are the super brands of destination marketing

Traveller behaviour tells us that cities should play a more prominent role in the destination marketing of countries, because for most travellers city boundaries are undefined and irrelevant, as they should be. A far greater symbiotic relationship btw country and city brands are needed. This will provide nations with the opportunity to diversify their appeal through using cities more strategically as powerful marketing attractions.

The intimate heart of the city - by Andrew Brauteseth

It is not business as usual and this is good news for city destinations. Cities and their industry players need to innovate, reinvent themselves, harness their brands and get their stories shared in authentic voices to stay ahead of the game. To lead the game in destination marketing we need to engage people, embrace technology, listen, really listen to our customers, care about the environment, train our people and adopt new best practice in responsible destination management. To stay ahead we must remain flexible and in tune with the world we live in.

The UNWTO “Cities” project initiated in 2012 in association with 21 of the world’s top cities 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.

Images by Rashiq Fataar, Skye GroveAndrew Brauteseth and Mariette du Toit-Helmbold