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Over-Tourism Concern Looms as Policy, Resources and Infrastructure Stretched by Rapid Travel Growth

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Today, the World Economic Forum releases its latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR), ranking 140 countries on their relative strengths in global tourism and travel.

Marking over a decade of travel and tourism benchmarking by the Forum, the 2019 index reveals the sector’s resilience, but warns of an approaching ‘tipping point’, where factors such as less expensive travel and fewer tourist barriers increase demand to unsustainable levels. Given that international tourist arrivals surpassed 1.4 billion in 2018, beating predictions by two years, this tipping point may be approaching sooner than expected.

As travel and tourism growth continues to outpace predictions, travel hotspots will start to feel their infrastructure and services under pressure to meet demand. Furthermore, emerging travel markets will also feel over-tourism pressures as their institutions try to keep up.

The top 10 TTCR scoring countries account for over a third of international arrivals, showing a heavy concentration of travel today. The top 25% of countries account for over two-thirds of arrivals. This combination of concentration of tourist arrivals and rapid travel growth is putting a strain on travel hotspots, despite relatively high infrastructure and travel services scores.

Travel and tourism competitiveness in 2019

The report finds travel and tourism competitiveness to be growing around the world. This is important considering the industry contributed over 10% to world GDP and about the same to global employment in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. This contribution is expected to rise by almost 50% in the next decade due to the expanding global middle class, particularly in Asia.

Among the top 10 countries, the UK was the only country to fall in the rankings. It now sits under the increasingly competitive United States at spot six, thanks to a decline in online searches for its natural and cultural resources and a weaker business environment. Aside from the UK-US switch, the top 10 remain the same as the 2017 ranking with Spain, France, and Germany in the lead.

“With travel barriers and travel costs declining, many countries have been significantly increasing their competitive position in global tourism,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility at the World Economic Forum. “Countries can leverage this opportunity to generate economic and development returns, but they must address gaps in infrastructure and environmental protection to make sure these returns can be achieved over the long-term.“

A link between overall economic versus travel and tourism competitiveness was also explored. The average score for more productive high-income countries was about 38% higher than the average score for low- to lower-middle-income countries. The report suggests that lower-income countries with similar levels of natural resources as higher-income countries can use their natural assets to drive broader economic development through direct investments and related policy vehicles in travel and tourism.

Representing 98% of global travel and tourism GDP, the 140 economies are ranked in four sub-indexes: enabling environment; travel and tourism policy and enabling conditions; infrastructure; and natural and cultural resources. Together, these four sub-indexes include a total of 14 pillars which are used to score a country’s overall travel and tourism competitiveness.

Regional and country highlights

Asia-Pacific

Asia-Pacific, which is one of the fastest-growing travel and tourism regions in this year’s ranking, continues to increase in importance for the global industry. Moreover, the region is the biggest source of global outbound tourist spending, with most of it going on intra-regional travel.

Japan (4, +0) remains Asia’s most competitive travel and tourism economy, ranking 4th globally, recently witnessing a boom in international tourist arrivals and receipts (ranking 12th and 9th respectively). China (13, +2) is by far the largest travel and tourism economy in Asia-Pacific and 13th most competitive globally (up two spots). The Philippines (75, +4) has shown improvement, moving up four places to rank 75 globally.

Eastern Asia-Pacific is the most competitive sub-region and the second most competitive in the world for travel and tourism based on the TTCR. South-East Asia outscores the global average in overall competitiveness. South Asia is the only sub-region in Asia-Pacific to score below the global average for travel and tourism competitiveness, but also experienced the greatest percentage improvement in score.

The Americas

The Americas improved on competitiveness since the last edition of the report, coming in above the global average, largely due to strong natural and cultural resources and travel and tourism policy-enabling conditions. The United States (5, +1), Brazil (32, -5), Canada (9, +0) and Mexico (19, +3) make up the four highest scoring countries in the region and account for most of the region’s tourism industry.

The United States (5, +1) is the top scorer in the Americas, moving up one place to rank fifth globally. The country’s large economy and high competitiveness helps give the US the largest travel and tourism GDP in the world, accounting for over 20% of the global total. Driving this are high levels of natural and cultural resources, which also separate it from many other developed nations in the ranking. Despite these high marks, the country still ranks low in overall environmental sustainability (100) and price competitiveness (119).

Bolivia (90, +9) is the most improved country in the Americas, moving up nine places to rank 90th globally.

In particular, the country improved its price competitiveness (109th to 61st) by lowering ticket taxes and airport charges and upped its international openness (88th to 72nd) by reducing visa requirements. Brazil is South America’s highest scoring country and its largest travel and tourism economy. The nation relies on its exceptional natural (2) and cultural (9) resources to attract visitors, especially given its less impressive performance in other areas of travel and tourism competitiveness.

Sub-regionally, North and Central America are more competitive than South America but also experienced less TTCR score growth. In contrast, all but three of South America’s members states covered by this report improved their competitiveness since 2017.

Europe and Eurasia

Europe and Eurasia remain the most competitive when it comes to travel and tourism, with six of the top 10 scorers from the continent. More specifically, Western Europe remained the most competitive sub-region in the world, improving its already high score.

The United Kingdom (6, -1) was the only country in Western Europe to decline in competitiveness dropping one spot since its last ranking, due primarily to the improved competitiveness of the United States and also falling digital demand (online searches of tourism-related subjects), and a slight decline in the business environment.

Spain (1, +0) maintains top place. France (2, +0) also keeps its second place thanks to high cultural resources and business travel ranking. Germany (3, +0) is Western Europe’s largest travel and tourism economy and the third most competitive in the world. Serbia (83, +12) saw the greatest rise in Europe, climbing 12 spots.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has improved since the last TTCR, with 12 of the 15 countries in the MENA region increasing their score from the last report. Despite progress, this region still falls below the global average largely due to lower natural and cultural resources and low international openness.

UAE (33, -4) remains the highest scoring country in the region, with its high ranking in ICT readiness and overall infrastructure boosting its score. Egypt (65, +9) is the region’s most improved country, moving up nine places since the last ranking. Saudi Arabia (69, -6) has the largest travel and tourism GDP within the region, but its competitiveness is undermined by a lack of international openness.

Oman (58, +8) ranks 3rd globally for safety and security. Israel (57, +4) leads the region in health and hygiene and human resource and labour market. Meanwhile, Qatar (51, -4) leads the region for business environment, ranking 8th globally, thanks to low tax rates and an efficient legal system.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest ranking travel and tourism region in this year’s report, with all but three of the 36 countries studied performing lower than the global average. Mauritius (54, +1), is the highest-ranking country in the region, largely due to a good business environment and, by comparison to its peers, high health and hygiene and international openness scores. The country is followed by South Africa (61, -8) and Seychelles (62).

Yet, despite its lower rankings, Africa is expected to have the second highest growth rate over the next 10 years, potentially bolstering its attractiveness to international investments in travel and tourism. Moreover, the region has massive potential for nature-based tourism thanks to its relatively underdeveloped, but rich, natural resources.

Rwanda (107, -10) currently leads the region in safety and security, ranking 31st in this pillar,but has seen its ranking in this area slip 22 spots from the last travel and tourism report and the country fell 11 spots overall. Tanzania (95, -4) is another leading country in the region, ranking first in Sub-Saharan Africa for natural resources and 12th in this category globally.

When considered by sub-region, Southern Africa is the most competitive, especially outscoring the other sub-regions in tourist services infrastructure, prioritization of travel and tourism and price competitiveness. Eastern Africa comes second among the sub-regions and Western Africa comes third. However, the report also finds that Western Africa has seen the highest growth of travel and tourism competitiveness in the region.

Anticipating the tipping point

The burden of over-tourism is already being felt by many travel hotspots. Last May, workers at the Louvre Museum in Paris walked out saying that overcrowding was unmanageable and dangerous. Venice has announced plans to redirect cruise ships away from the city’s central islands, following public discontent. In Spain, there is backlash from residents who feel their way of life is disrupted by high levels of tourism.

Many emerging markets have also begun to feel the strain. For example, Thailand had to recently close its famous Maya Bay cove after a rise in visitors caused extensive ecological damage.

These cases show that competitive travel economies might be approaching a ‘tipping point’ where rising tourism is not met with enough carrying capacity or sufficient management policies. The resulting potential loss of competitiveness puts nations at risk of becoming victims of their own success.

“Countries must look beyond their short-term gains from travel and tourism to ensure a positive future for their economies,” said Lauren Uppink, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism at the World Economic Forum, “Travel and tourism can drive economies, but only if policy-makers ensure proper management of their tourism assets, which requires a holistic, multistakeholder approach.”

Without appropriate investment in travel infrastructure and other travel resources, long term competitiveness may be undermined by bottlenecks. The Forum plans to continue research on over-tourism’s effects on travel and tourism competitiveness with its ‘Data for Destinations’ project launching in 2020.

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New Report Shows Value of IP to the Tourism Sector

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A new report published jointly by WIPO and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) on the value of intellectual property in boosting tourism shows how the IP system creates a favorable ecosystem for innovation, entrepreneurship and investment in the sector.

The publication, entitled “Boosting Tourism Development through Intellectual Property,” highlights good practices, features case studies and recommendations for policymakers and other tourism stakeholders on how to ensure that creativity, innovation, traditions and cultural heritage in tourism are properly protected and commercialized and that the benefits are shared by all.

In a joint Foreword, WIPO Director General Daren Tang and UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili, predict that while the tourism sector has taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will recover and “contribute to reigniting hard-hit economies and societies thanks to its capacity to adapt to changes and offer innovative solutions to new challenges.”

“In this context, IP rights are powerful tools that can be used to boost tourism development and competitiveness. The IP system is designed to promote creativity and innovation and support efforts by individuals, businesses and other actors to differentiate themselves and their products and services in the marketplace, whether through trademarks, geographical indications, copyrights or patents,” they added.

The publication provides practical guidance for non-IP specialists on how to include IP in tourism product development – from destination branding to tourism policies. It shows how different IP rights can be leveraged to raise funds. And it showcases successful experiences and demonstrates how stakeholders around the globe are using IP rights to add value to tourism services and products, as well as to protect and promote local knowledge, traditions and cultural heritage.

Through examples of producing cheese, tea, pepper, wine or other products, the publication shows how geographical indications and appellations of origin can be used to support the growth of rural tourism and provide benefits to local communities.

To leverage the full potential of the IP system, the report recommends inclusion of IP strategies in national tourism plans and tourism policy strategy for regional and local destinations. Not only does good IP knowledge and management help to make use of the protected intangibles, but it also attracts investments and leverages fundraising opportunities.

Finally, tourism authorities are encouraged to raise awareness among tourism and destinations stakeholders on the importance of appropriate IP knowledge and management to foster the sector’s growth  in these challenging times.

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UNWTO and IATA Collaborate on Destination Tracker to Restore Confidence in Travel

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announce a Destination Tracker in preparation for the restart of international travel. It is the result of both organizations joining efforts to boost confidence and accelerate recovery of the tourism sector when borders reopen. The UNWTO-IATA Destination Tracker is a new free online tool for governments to provide information on COVID-19 requirements for travel and the measures in place at the destination.

The tool is available through the websites of both organizations and will provide information on: 

  • COVID-19 Indicators including infection rates, positivity rates, and vaccination roll out by destination/country.
  • Air Travel Regulations, including test and quarantine requirements, provided by IATA’s Timatic solution.
  • Destination Measures, including general health and safety requirements such as use of masks, transit through a country, curfew, or regulations related to restaurants and attractions, provided by national tourism organizations.  

The Destination Tracker will fulfil a key need by providing clarity on COVID-19 measures affecting tourism. The situation for travelers is complex with UNWTO data showing that one in three destinations remains closed to tourists. Moreover, restrictions and in-country measures are continuously being revised. 

Governments can use the Destination Tracker to post COVID-19 travel information so that potential travelers will know what to expect at their destination. When fully populated with updated destination information, travel stakeholders including Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and travel agencies, will be able to obtain the latest destination information, enabling travelers to make informed decisions when borders reopen and travel resumes. The development of the Tracker framework is now complete. Up-to-date information on COVID-19 indicators and air travel regulations is available and systematically updated. Destination information is being progressively uploaded, expanded and updated with official sources as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says: “UNWTO is pleased to reinforce its partnership with IATA, a UNWTO Affiliate Member, to provide this important tool. Travelers and companies will be able to check requirements in place for air travel, as well as what measures will be in place at the visited destination. We trust this tool is also critical for governments to track existing travel restrictions and support the safe restart of our sector.”

“It has been more than a year since the freedom to travel was lost as COVID-19 measures saw borders close. When governments have the confidence to re-open borders people will be eager to travel. And they will need accurate information to guide them. With the support of national tourism organizations, the UNWTO-IATA Destination Tracker will help travelers and travel companies obtain the latest information for travel planning,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.

The UNWTO-IATA Destination Tracker builds on the existing partnership between the two parties. In October 2020, UNWTO and IATA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to restore confidence in international air travel. The agreement will also see the two agencies partner to foster innovation to drive the restart of tourism, promote greater public-private collaboration in the field of aviation and the tourism sector in general, and advance progress already made towards achieving greater sustainability and resilience.

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UNWTO and Facebook: Leverage Digital Marketing to Restart Tourism

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Facebook have partnered to help global destinations make use of the power of digital marketing as they look to welcome tourists back safely.

Over the past year, the United Nations specialized agency for tourism has been supporting its Member States on a series of initiatives relating to market intelligence and marketing. Now, as tourism begins to restart in some parts of the world, a series of special sessions were held jointly with Facebook to deliver a range of key insights into how the effective use of digital marketing can help destinations gain a competitive advantage in the challenging months ahead.

Three sessions, one each in English, Spanish and French, welcomed participants from 30 countries. The sessions focused on Facebook and Instagram Communication Insights and Best Practices, with participants also given an overview of digital tools and tips for communicating with their target audiences, including through Messenger and WhatsApp. Alongside this, the sessions highlighted the importance of metrics and other key tools in measuring the success of digital marketing campaigns, and role of advertising and creativity in reaching new audiences.

Sandra Carvao, UNWTO Chief, Market Intelligence and Competitiveness, says: “We are very happy to have Facebook on board with us to bring the fundamentals and best cases of digital marketing to our Members. Our partnership will help destinations be better prepared for a new market framework and allow them to use data and digital marketing to reach new audiences and restart their tourism sectors.  

Nicolai Gerard, Facebook EMEA Government Politics & NonProfit Marketing Solution Director says: “We are very pleased to work with UNWTO to help global destinations take advantage of all the benefits that digital solutions and tools can offered. In the times we are living, it is key for the travel industry to implement digital marketing strategies to accelerate the road to recovery.  With this partnership, we believe that travel destinations will gain the necessary tools and skills that will allow them to use all the services available through our family of apps”.

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