Why tourism matters to heritage attractions – interesting stuff from the Tourism Society Conference

I am on the train on the way back from The Tourism Society Conference.  It was very good day, packed with information including a refreshing amount of numerical data based on real research and proficient number crunching.

Obviously, I was looking out for things that might inform our work with heritage and countryside attractions and destinations (in any combination).  There was lots of that.

Some of my favourite facts and other bits were:

  •  Sir John Whitmore, guru of ‘coaching for performance’, expounding on the benefits of positive humanistic psychology in both coaching and management and bigging up the importance of Emotional Intelligence. Yes, to all of that. The throw-away phrase I liked best was when he referred to the ‘vulnerability of travelers’. He was talking about international tourists, but I think it applies equally well to many people setting foot inside a heritage or cultural attraction, or a nature reserve for the first time.  I shall use it as a  justification to bang on and on about visitors’ experience (see, for example, here and here) on this blog and elsewhere.

  • Tourism is big, big business nationally and internationally but it is apparently hard for politicians to see maybe because it is made up of a huge number of often tiny businesses rather than, say, mining, petrochemicals or car-manufacture which comprise a tiny number of huge businesses. Tourism was 9% of global GDP last year; it grew by 4%; one in twelve jobs in the world is connected to travel and tourism.
  • We were also told one in seven of the world’s population flew last year. (I am still getting my head around that – maybe I misunderstood?)

  • Tourism is growing all over the world – most strongly in N.E. Asia (6.7% increase last year) and S. Asia (4.3%).  It is growing most weakly in Europe particularly in the EU (0.3%).
  • UK is the 7th most popular destination in the world. Our cultural and heritage resources are a huge strength. Out of the 50 most popular destinations in the world for international travelers we rank 4th for (contemporary) culture, 7th for cultural heritage. I was somewhat shocked to learn we rank 22nd for ‘natural beauty’ and are largely perceived as an urban destination.
  • The nationalities that love the UK most are the Chinese, South Africans, Australians, and Swedes. The Turks, by contrast, feel very differently about us (so lets be extra nice to our Turkish visitors this year!)
  • Oh, and the recession has been tough! No huge surprise there. It will continue to be tough. Some businesses have gone to the wall, others will, others will survive and thrive. Working together will make the biggest difference.
  • Ash clouds, Arab Springs, cruise ship crashes and wet, wet, wet summers don’t help tourism either. (I guess you knew that too)
  • Our large numbers of unemployed young people featured both a potential employees in this growing industry and in the decreased number of domestic hols being taken by the under 30s.
  • People are increasingly making last minute decisions about going away. On-line booking is therefore essential. (I don’t think that just applies to accommodation – events organizers should maybe also take note.)
  • I learned about how and why food and profitability in the food and beverage industry is under pressure. In the unlikely event that I ever end up running such a business I will always weigh the meat at the back door.
  • The National Trust as a charity looks at ‘net gain’ rather than ‘profit’ and operates a triple bottom line looking at i) economic, ii) social and iii) environmental outcomes.
  • On a total tangent, and just because I like it, a nice quote from Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust about why it was needed, which was NOT for reasons of conservation, but of social justice. She said, ‘I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in and places to spend a day in.’ Three cheers for that woman.  Hip hip hooray for Octavia.
  • We have become a nation of deal-hunting ‘voucher vampires’. We had a compelling presentation about the pitfalls of discounting and why it is better to love and nurture customer loyalty.
  • And someone nearly took the words out of my mouth and almost maybe suggested, or at least inferred, that maybe some of our beautiful rural areas are less hospitable to strangers than they might be.  But I may have imagined that, because that’s what I was thinking about at the time.
  • And finally, from the floor, the suggestion of reviving ‘social tourism’. Apparently many empty train seats travel to places with empty beds and many people in the UK (including one in three families) cannot afford the benefits of tourism/holidays.  In other European countries, Spain and Greece were mentioned, joined up thinking brings these together. So why not here? (Why not indeed? Is this a campaign I see before me? …)

The standard of the presentations was remarkably high.  Well thought out and prepared, cogent points, pithily made and well illustrated in 12 minutes.  There was obviously a lot more said than I’ve recorded above but those points alone made it worth my while getting out of the office for the day.

All of this and more, is on the Tourism Society’s website, where the PowerPoints are available – but in the ‘members only’ section.  Worth the membership fee alone, I would say (and that’s before you see the journal and the other events).

And now, armed with all that new knowledge about holiday makers and their habits, I am off on hols myself.  I shall spend the next week with a hoard of family ranging in age from 1 to 81. If we do anything vaguely relevant to heritage, countryside, attractions or anything else like that. I’ll let you know.  My vote goes to taking part in English Heritage’s Ultimate Sandcastle Competition.

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About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
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