The definitive guide to understanding digital, sustainable solutions for destinations
(Sustainable solutions, anyone?)
Before we start
We understand the topic of sustainability gets brought up in conversation quite often nowadays! Usually, it ends with everyone feeling a little overwhelmed, but today we're offering some solutions to the discussion. This article will cover the key ways that digital solutions could help create an equally sustainable, economical and, more importantly, creatively engaging tourism industry in the future.
In the UK, measures are currently rolling out to ensure our tourism industry remains healthy and stable while maintaining sustainability overall. The development of the tourism industry has influenced the creation of new forms of travel, the expansion of tourist destinations available to us and an overall increase in the world's population.
Tourism brings in a host of benefits for areas nationally and internationally. It boosts the overall revenue of a local economy, creates jobs, helps develop a country's infrastructure and ultimately plants the seeds of ongoing cultural exchange between foreign travellers and local citizens. These benefits are both short-term and long-term and can induce social end economic benefits for individuals and groups from various backgrounds in a local area!
The tourism sector transformed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic due to changes in footfall across the UK. In recent years, we have seen a surge in interest toward sustainable development targets and actions taken by governments, non-governmental organisations and enterprises to achieve them.
What kind of solutions should we be looking for regarding sustainable tourism? First, it will be valuable to explain the key factors that define how you might approach issues related to sustainable tourism.
The rundown on overtourism
Overcrowding is a complicated issue: The consensus on overcrowding is varied, and the factors that inform its existence in the first place: for example, alienated residents or over-used and outdated tourism infrastructures. The issue can affect both established and emerging destinations of any kind. Locations of a wide variety may be affected, such as cities, parks, beaches, and museums. The core challenge of overcrowding is closely related to the time of year. Some destinations struggle to large onboard crowds of domestic visitors, and others may deal with a large influx of international visitors instead.
Diverse interests abound: Stakeholders comprise government officials, regional/local agencies, DMOs, commercial organisations, those employed in the tourism sector and lastly, tourists themselves. Given the sheer diversity of these stakeholders and their objectives, not every solution will work for everyone.
Ethics and Values: The core focus for many destinations is 'value over volume'. This focus raises whether it is reasonable to influence visitor numbers to a manageable level if all it does is make the destination liveable for those who can afford it. Another viewpoint is that travel is a fundamental right to those who desire it. The questions posed here are challenging to answer, and it isn't our intention to answer them on behalf of either the tourist or the tourist destination. But likewise, we must begin to acknowledge these matters.
Determining dynamics of growth
The four key reasons contributing to tourism growth are affluence, demographic shifts, convenience, and awareness. Each has the potential to be a core contributing factor toward overtourism in one way or another.
Affluence refers to a growing middle class throughout various countries, contributing to tourism worldwide. Visa, the credit card company, has projected that by 2025, more than 280 million households will be intending to travel internationally.
Demographic shifts occur when newer generations adjust their travel habits to their heightened ability to travel due to technological developments. Millennials are already travelling in significant numbers, with these numbers likely to grow further in the future; likewise, they are far more likely than previous generations to incorporate social media and technology usage into their travel experience. In one sense, this could lead to members of this generation seeking out non-traditional travel experiences, which they tend to value more. On the other hand, technology usage could be nudging them to already popular spots, thanks to their ability to check and navigate reviews.
Convenience is another factor that contributes to the proliferation of overtourism today. The rise of online travel research and booking tools, all while being paired with continued supply growth, like home-sharing services, are opening up new opportunities to travel for tourists. According to this report, almost two-thirds of leisure travellers use online services. The increased affordability of travel, as exemplified in the United States, where domestic airfares fell 44% between 1980 and 2016, only further gives credence to the idea of tourism becoming less sustainable in the future as more people travel to locations cheaply.
Finally, our awareness of tourist destinations has increased massively. Thanks to rating and review sites, social media outlets, destination ranking sites, and many other channels dedicated to reinforcing interest in travel to top destinations worldwide. Online travel/tourism reviews tend to concentrate on the most famous attractions; for example, in Stockholm, the top five attractions account for 42% of reviews on TripAdvisor. Additionally, endangered destinations like the Great Barrier Reef have led to more tourists visiting due to awareness of its shortened lifespan as an ecosystem.
At least up until the recent pandemic, the tourism sector had been booming. The effects of this were both positive and negative, ultimately leading to some of the world's most popular tourist destinations feeling a host of difficulties during peak months every year. Many of these destinations are struggling to measure the symptoms of overtourism —this is where digital solutions may come into play.
The five critical problems facing locations due to overtourism are as follows:
Degraded tourist experiences
Damage to nature
Threats to culture and heritage
All of these can be acknowledged, with the help of digitisation, in one way or another. The core idea behind implementing mobile applications in the sustainable development of tourism is to reduce the volume of tourists relative to respective areas, essentially spreading the load across a wider margin of locations. This comprehensive solution could see improvements in all of the prior mentioned areas. Although, it'll be essential for us to go through the principles behind this idea and how they work theoretically.
(Time to get creative)
'Footfall' is a time-based statistic used to measure the number of visitors received in a specific location during a given time frame. With the help of technology, this information can compare each area's popularity at the installation/destination. Likewise, historical footfall data can be gathered and stored to monitor any increase or decrease in visitors over a more extended period. This data aggregation can be the key to determining how and why visitors will choose to move around a site sustainably as we advance.
Inciting movement toward different parts of a destination can be a challenge, especially when many tourists visit local places frequently in the exact locations. The idea of encouraging a sense of creativity and curiosity during a tourist visit to a site can be a great way to induce a healthier, sustainable ecosystem for businesses, tourists and locals alike. We covered this principle in our previous blog post on digitising the high street.
The article looked at how mobile/digital applications can reinvigorate the local economy and encourage connectivity between users and businesses. With creative tourism, the goal is to invigorate the user experience and connect it directly with the physical space, which leads to a diverse and innovative tourist experience.
Creative Tourism induces an authentic experience for the tourist. While traditional forms of tourism provide context for visitors to enjoy more nuanced experiences, it does not offer the same amount of in-depth encounters with the people and places found during their stay in the area.
The core idea behind this form of tourism is to generate real value in local arts, customs, and materials, which will help visitors understand the benefits of these products and services in comparison to mass-produced items sold from chain suppliers. Sustainability in a tourism context refers to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development that affect the location.
A healthy balance between these three outlined dimensions guarantees long term sustainability in the tourism sector. Around 58% of consumers say they have been thinking about their effect on the environment since the onset of Covid-19.
Research indicates that consumers highly invested in sustainability want to be persuaded by messages that include the location's sustainability performance. On the other hand, customers who may be less invested in self-sustainable solutions find themselves invested in messages that include self-referential emotional communication.
A digital solution to incite creativity within the tourist experience could involve gamified applications that encourage movement toward new spots usually unexplored. A gamified system can reward more exploration by providing unique discounts at locations for visitors that choose to visit.
An application that provides input on the visitor's engagement with the destination's sustainability performance might be an innovative and equally engaging solution to some aspects of overtourism. After a tourist visits a local business or goal that is usually less popular, the app can notify the visitor on how much their visit has informed short or long-term sustainability initiatives currently being pushed at the location.
Understanding the crowd
A common pain point for tourist destinations is too high a concentration of people in one place throughout the holiday season. Overtourism can equate to too much pressure on individual businesses in certain areas, which affects the supply chain and health standards and possibly degrades the environment quicker.
Implementing a mobile application with a focused, personalised experience in mind can move tourists toward other locations at a destination that would typically be less popular, encouraging the dispersal of footfall and enabling a healthier relationship between businesses and tourists in the long run.
The Cornish countryside experienced a massive uptake in visitors throughout 2020 and 2021 due to the travel limits posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to many public members from other parts of the country sprinting to local campsites and towns for a lovely holiday.
The result of this was a significant strain at certain spots in the county, leading to a fair amount of disgruntled feelings for both locals and visitors— the human activity associated with tourism consistently links with its environment. A mobile application with integrated navigation (and maybe a few gamification features) could help alleviate pain points related to tourism in rural or suburban locations throughout the country.
How this is possible will entirely depend on the implementation and availability of the application. An all-encompassing application that informs and incites or even entertains the visitor makes for a far more engaging experience when visiting destinations. There are many possibilities for how the app can tell visitors about their sustainability practices, such as rewarding them for spending more time walking/cycling around a destination or visiting less-visited areas.
In this sense, it will be essential to raise awareness among tourists, residents, and managers of tourist facilities about the oncoming sustainable development of the tourism industry and sustainability practices currently being implemented.
In the vein of everything we've talked about here, it's worth mentioning that the world is constantly evolving. Our sustainability practices will need to revise in every sector to make a substantial difference overall. There's no quick fix to make tourism practices more sustainable. Still, at the very least, it'll be valuable to share and educate each other on the possible solutions already available to us as a first step in the right direction.
Stay tuned for even more on digitising sustainable tourism practices as we advance!
If you're interested in chatting to us about our product or learning how mobile applications can make tourism more sustainable, get in contact with us here!