the last segment of this series, discussion centered on the growth of tourism
in the Smiling Coast, the crafting of the appropriate institutions as well as
the formulation of appropriate legislations and regulations to carry the
tourism agenda forward. The myriad of
factors that led to the phenomenal rise of tourism as a global industry were
highlighted. It was pointed out that “tourism whatever its scale and nature has
become an undeniable fact of modern life”. In a nutshell, the world has become
“a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Thus, tourism as a
global success story has grown faster than imagined and in spite of recent
events such as terrorism and all its ramifications, this vital industry is
poised to grow. By 2020 some authorities predict that the number of tourist
arrivals will double to 1.6 billion
Accordingly the global tourism market place is becoming increasingly competitive. The key drivers include a shrinking globe as a result of improved aviation technology and electronic information systems, the advent of globalization, desire to immerse in exotic cultures and the increasing awareness of national stakeholders of the increasing significance of tourism and travel. This piece will focus on the trends impacting on tourism both locally and globally.
These trends have resulted in tourism destinations becoming increasing focused and to shift from generic marketing towards more experience based marketing aimed at meeting the needs, the desires and motivations of specific market segments. Invariably a fundamental change in the behavior of tourists can be detected ranging from increased awareness for environment, increased travel experience, higher consciousness of quality to more selected choice of destinations.. In the Gambian context the rolling out adequately resourced supply side initiatives geared towards developing niche tourism in such areas as bird watching, fishing and culinary tourism are all steps in the right direction . The overall objective should be geared towards the provision of adequate infrastructure, adequate human resource development, and maintenance of standards and creation of a conducive and sustainable environment that is attractive to investors, but not at the expense of our ecosystem. Here sustainability is the key word- elements of the natural and the cultural environments which are destroyed for short term gain will be lost to future generations. The transition from agriculture which is the predominant occupation of the vast majority of the community to tourism- a service intensive industry requires the creation of support systems and mentorship in entrepreneurial skills to mitigate any negative effects on the vulnerable particularly youth and women through capacity building, skills transfer, soft loans, marketing and visibility support etc. Sustainable Tourism operates in harmony with the local environment, community and cultures, so that these become the permanent beneficiaries and not victims of tourism development.
Public – Private Partnership- Winning Formula
Another noticeable trend is the growing emphasis on Public- Private Partnership approach to tourism development. As tourism on the African continent continues to grow, partnerships are being forged between public and private sectors for promotional purposes, but also on tourism development and new projects. A case in point is the successful rolling out of a mega project that is poised to change the landscape of the Tourism Development Area and provide much needed office space for both the GTBoard and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture thanks to a well conceived public –private partnership forged between tourism stakeholders and a local investor in tourism. In Southern Africa this has been very much developed and as such Namibia Tourism and Air Namibia have embarked on a joint venture project in developing a new tourist railway across the Namib Desert. In the Gambian scene, given the importance of river based tourism the GPA and the tourism stakeholders could forge joint ventures to develop the dilapidated jetties across the length and breadth of the River Gambia in a bid to develop river based tourism. The same approach can be used to develop river based cruise boats such as the ones on the River Nile.
Multi- Destination Holidays – Growing Trend
Another emerging trend is the increasing scope of regional tourism and cooperation between nations. This is informed by the fact that multi destinations are becoming the in –thing in tourism and tourists are increasingly craving for multiple experiences in one package and borders are becoming irrelevant to these discerning and adventurous tourists. As such the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (RETOSA) has developed a new branding for the region’s 14 member states in order to improve Southern Africa’s share of Global tourist arrivals. RETOSA aims to improve travel across the boundaries of its member states, ensure a unified collection and analysis of tourism statistics, and establish the agrees regional quality standards and control policy, including harmonization of standards of registration, classification and grading of service providers and tourism facilities in member states. It is also developing a range of promotional materials and a regional registry.
Nearer home ECOWAS is also taking a cue from RETOSA and various processes are ongoing including the upgrading of statistical data on tourism and travel, formulation, and standardization of hotel classification scheme. Improving facilitation in tourism and ease movement of tourists across borders both land air and sea, developing a regional tourist guidebook. These issues were the subject of a high level deliberation during the ECOWAS ministerial conference in Banjul in 2012 and expectations have never been raised to a higher pitch for our regional leaders to seize on the momentum and develop the building blocks to facilitate the concept of muiti-destinations, which is also in line with the ECOWAS vision of developing sub-regional tourism and ECOWAS of the people.
Staycation and All –Inclusive Holidays – The In - Thing
Another noticeable trend is the increase in budget travelers borne by the desire of the tourist to play it safe. Generally there is a noticeable slow down in economies of the advanced economies mostly in Europe and these countries constitute our major source markets. Tourism bears the brunt of this economic meltdown, and based on authoritative studies as well as the Tourism Development Master plan Study most British (our major source market) go for their first holidays in the summer which is our low period, hence our peak period is normally their second holiday. In this period of economic uncertainty, which has direct impact on the budgets of potential tourists, it’s most likely that the second holiday will be delisted. This goes to explain the decline of market share in the main UK source market.
Another trend which has a direct bearing on the foregoing is the development of domestic tourism otherwise known as staycation. This form of tourism is increasingly gaining prominence because it is cost effective and can be tailored to suit the holidaymaker in his near environment without having to make a foray to distant destinations either short haul or long haul. Given the rise of staycation vacations, most destinations especially in Asia and Europe have come up with very enticing packages to encourage people to stay in-country and partake in the wonderful attractions and hospitality facilities at unbeatable rates.
All Inclusive (AI) – a Market Trend
Another key variable is judicious spending by tourists as take home incomes dwindles. When they finally decide to travel, preference is given to destination offering value for money. This explains the emergence and significance of All Inclusive Holidays in major source markets such as UK and Germany. Several other variables have propelled the all inclusive phenomenon including changes in life style, ever emerging new trends as well as the constant demand of the international travel trade for new packages to attract new market segments and satisfy new customer demand. The AI holiday concept refers to vacations where everything is included in prepaid package and visitors would know in advance the cost of their core elements of the holiday. This will bring financial certainly to vacation planning, eliminates the risk common with bed and breakfast packages.
With all inclusive, all financial decisions are largely premade and prepaid. Therefore any spending on the holiday will be at the discretion of the guest. All inclusive concepts have come of age and now it is not limited to “on resort spend” to the exclusion of “off resort spend”. AI packages are now very flexible and accommodates excursions and sightseeing and discretionary spend on souvenirs, local food etc. Following the ill fated introduction in 1999 by FTI, AI as made a proud comeback albeit on a more responsible and balanced note in the Smiling Coast.
E. Tourism on the Rise
Another major development impacting positively on tourism development is the development of electronic information systems and related internet based technology. According to Professor Dr Md Abdul Mottalib of the Islamic University of Technology- Bangladesh, ‘tourism as the world’s largest business is a complex system of integrated parts. Technology not only facilitates this integration, but also attracts people to travel”.
He further adds that “the internet has provided new economic environment for conducting business. E commerce is a growing sector and many tourism businesses are involved in developing the internet services including traditional travel agents, tour operators, national tourist offices, airlines, hotels and other accommodation providers. This means of doing business is known as e-tourism.” The key difference being the speed at which information can be communicated, global accessibility and the minimal cost of establishing a business online. In recent times the message to destination marketers is that if your destination is not on the web, then it may well be ignored by the millions of consumers who now have access to the internet and who expect that every destination will have a comprehensive presence on the web, thus the cliché “if you are not on line then you are not on sale”.
According to the Africa Tourism Monitor “a survey by marketing analytics firm Euromonitor estimates that 96% of travel research is done on line, with travelers visiting more than 14 websites before booking.’ It went further to reveal that “these findings are well corroborated by trends observed at JUMLA Travel, the quest for connected facilities, and sharing online shopping experience is on the rise. Increasing mobile penetration, a youthful population and better connectivity have acted as driving forces in the rise of e-commerce.”
This impact is being felt in destination Gambia because despite the drop the 2016 survey reveals that internet remained the leading source of information for 33% of visitors to the Smiling Coast, compared to 57% in 2915 and this sizeable chunk, slowly but surely is de-emphasizing the role of the travel agent and the travel brochure.
Wellness / BLEISURE Tourism
Another noticeable trend which has been spurred by travelers concern for health and wellbeing while seeking unique authentic experience is resulting in demand for spiritual travel with an adventure component. According to the Africa Monitor Report 2016 “the Wellness Summit found that in 2014, wellness travel (travel with a purpose of improving health and well being) was growing 74% than regular travel”. It adds that “in Africa the wellness travel trend has been seeing the rise in the concept of “wellness in the wilderness” where a traditional Safari break is accompanied by meditation, yoga and spa services.” It also observes that while current consumers are international holiday makers, there is much scope to develop for business and leisure or “bleisure” tourists as well as adventurers and regular tourists.
In my humble view destination Gambia should take a cue from this trend and craft enticing packages revolving around, wellness, yoga and spa, specifically tailored to suit our ageing visitors and women. Already the Sandale Eco – retreat is leading the way and the number of visitors that are attracted to this eco retreat in the wilderness of Kartong jungle to partake in their favorite passion- yoga can be a source of inspiration. This is easy to develop than conventional medical tourism for which there is no comparative advantage for the Gambia and would require lot of investment to kick-start.
The good news is that typically consumers of these types of breaks are relatively older and wealthy holidaymakers, often female who are looking for more than just a typical African break. Another advantage for destination Gambia is the fact that a recent authoritative survey by the GTBoard reveals that “The Gambia has arguably been referred to as a destination for retirees, given that 44% of visitors for 2016 were between 40 – 64 yrs of age and 29% were 65 years of age.”
This notwithstanding, the African Tourism monitor further suggests “that links with the schools who are increasingly using mindfulness to assist students with their busy schedules could also prove a successful future direction for this type of holiday”. Despite the fact that destination Gambia was able to attract only 17% of visitors within the age bracket of 25- 39 years, but the student segment of 8% though modest, is pointing to the growing potential that could be leveraged for the development of the wellness holiday.
It is evident from the foregoing trends that tourism is right at the center of global development trends and challenges including the role of ICT, environmental sustainability, youth development, issues of health and wellness, regional integration, poverty alleviation as well as public –private partnership. According to one leading light at the level of the United Nations World Tourism Organization “tourism cares about all these issues and people working in tourism can only be called good professionals if they pay due cognizance of these trends impacting on tourism as well as the challenges so as to build a more prosperous and sustainable world for tourism to thrive.”
The author is a tourism and marketing consultant and was formerly Senior Tourism Officer (National Tourist Office) - 2000 - 2002. Former Director of Marketing, GTA/GTBoard/ (2006 - 2012) and briefly served as Director of Planning, Ministry of Tourism & Culture (2012)