One of the key trends predicted for 2018 is that delegates are looking for more authentic and local experiences and for “off the beaten path” destinations. As a result, destinations are adjusting their offer to follow this trend, with further DMCs and event agencies designing experiences around the „unknown“.
I love off the beaten path and authentic experiences. I don’t like crowded places, waiting in the queue (unless it’s Wimbledon) and overpriced products and services. But the same year that we talk about authenticity and off the beaten path destinations there is also a new widely used term – „over tourism“ that makes many tourism providers worried. Several destinations, especially Italy, Spain and France, encounter the negative effects of over tourism – so how can we prevent that other authentic destinations will not become overcrowded and lose their uniqueness?
The idea to write this post came after visiting a local Christmas market in Heidelberg. One weekend we went to the Christmas market in the city centre. It was very crowded and we felt ripped off for the prices charged for the low quality products. The following weekend we went to the local “off the beaten path” market that mostly tourists don’t know about, the Adventsmarkt at the Neuburg monastery. This market is run by local producers and the products are bio certified. The monastery produces their own beer and honey that visitors can buy to support the monastery. The flammkuchen stand seemed to be very popular so we decided to give it a try. We started with one and it was so delicious we bought two more, as well as mulled wine and kids punch. We knew that every Euro spent will support the local traders. In fact we were happy to spend money there and the price value was right. It’s the second year that we went there now and the experience was fantastic, so I wouldn’t like it to suddenly become a tourist trap like the one in the city centre. Maybe it will be, but most probably it won’t.
For now, let’s look at some of the trends, challenges and solutions for the MICE industry in regard to authentic experiences and over tourism.
Social media and social influencers
Social media and social media influencers can make a place famous. So was the case with Canberra, the capital city of Australia that became famous thanks to the “Freakshakes” proving Canberra more than a boring public service town.
Not only people were queuing for the shake at the original coffee shop Patissez, when it couldn’t keep up with the high demand and ran out of ingredients the nearby coffee shops could also benefit from their success offering other shake variations. One of the interviewees in the article noted that “more than anything, he was happy that Canberra was finally being recognised for its great food and small businesses. They may come for the freakshakes, but there’s a lot of other great things going on in Canberra”. Nowadays you can find this shakes all over the world.
It all happened when people started posting the shakes on Instagram and that attracted international interest, and what happened with Canberra can happen with any destination, it’s all a matter of marketing and user generated content on social media.
When such viral exposure happens, all local stakeholders can benefit from it, including hotels, restaurants, transport providers, supermarkets and so on. But when the trend wears off, as might happen with freakshake as now we are more health conscious as we were two years ago, the destination is suddenly at loss and can become a „ghost town“ (it might be exaggeration but you know what I mean). The destination should be able to capitalise on the success and develop other products to keep a sustainable tourism flow.
The sharing economy
The sharing economy with services like Airbnb and VizEat brought a new set of opportunities for business travellers and destinations. While some business travellers choose these services to save costs, others actually enjoy using them as an alternative to the traditional hotel or restaurant because they can meet and interact with the locals. Some Airbnb rentals are even more expensive than a hotel room and nevertheless people are ready to pay the premium price for an authentic experience.
There is very interesting dynamics on the market at the moment, with hotels starting to fight back to win their customers from Airbnb. This recent article for example suggested that hotel developers should take example from co-working spaces and “provide guests with an avenue for communal interaction”.
One destination recognised the opportunity in the sharing economy, and instead of fighting it, Visit Denmark partnered with Airbnb to „work together to promote Denmark across the world as a unique travel destination and exchange learnings about travel and tourism trends“. Through online campaigns, gamification and competitions Denmark will be able to promote and spread the tourism flow across the country.
I encountered the term over tourism only last year after reading a Skift article that discussed the challenges and proposed five solutions to over tourism. I guess that I don’t need to list the challenges here; we all know what they are. Solutions, on the other hand, are not so obvious. Skift presented five ways to fight over tourism, and these include limiting transportation options, increasing prices, more realistic marketing and better education, better collaboration among stakeholders and protection of overcrowded areas.
While some destinations are overwhelmed with the tourist flow, other destinations need tourists, especially during the low season to keep running their business and supporing local communities. My example earlier was about Christmas time, but what about the off season for “seasonal” destinations, such as ski resorts or wine regions?
Italy is the perfect example to use, because it’s one of the countries that suffer the most from over tourism. Both on the leisure and MICE sides there are challenges, because everyone wants to go to the most popular destinations such as Rome or Venice. But let us focus only on MICE for this article.
To get further insights I interviewed Laura Notarbartolo, the founder of Italian Special Occasions DMC. After working many years in the travel and event industries she decided to promote Italy in a different and more sustainable way – and to advise clients to hosts events “off season” and “off the beaten path”. Acting like an ambassador, she travels around the country to build relationships with her suppliers and check the infrastructure for corporate and private events (she also organises destination weddings).
She says „it all depends on at what stage of the decision making process the client contacts her, and if he/she are in the very beginning, she can suggest the less known destinations for MICE, such as Umbria or Marche and all their hidden treasures for corporate events. But if the client is fixed on Rome, for example, what we can do is to advise on the best season for corporate events in Rome, which is winter. If there is some space for flexibility, Bologna could be a nice alternative to Rome, because it has access from more airports, similar room capacity and same world class infrastructure due to being the automotive hub and knowledge cluster in Italy. As a bonus it’s also a very gastronomic region and attendees are always keen on incorporating a unique culinary experience“.
Most importantly, when we bring a group to a less-known region, we know that we are able to support the local community in a sustainable manner. Our events are tailor made, so therefore it will not become a mass product that we’ll sell as “package tours” on the internet to commercialise it and make it the next “in” destination. Because the moment we’ll commercialise a destination it will start losing from its authenticity.“
Above I showed how destinations on a governmental level, but also as an individual and owner of a small business, can drive change for the entire industry. But let’s not forget that it starts from the individual event planner, before the brief gets out. I think that as event professionals we should be sensible and attentive to the global trends, and before our brief to host an event goes to the local hands, we need to do our due diligence and think how to bring a positive change.