Tourism and geography: Understanding the Landscape

Powerpoint Presentation Scotland's Landscape: The Making of Scottish Tourism
Powerpoint Presentation Scotland’s Landscape: The Making of Scottish Tourism

Last year I was granted the privilege of speaking in a geography class on my favorite subject, Scotland and its’ landscape.  I wanted to talk about the making of the tourism landscape, and I knew some of my own students would be in the class.  And had to put a different twist on it to keep their attention.  It is hard, but I persevered.

I started off the discussion with one of my favorite quotes from Neil Oliver and his book, A History of Scotland:

But there is a way of feeling about a place, about home, that transcends nationality and geography.
Sometimes the right words are found in the wrong place and remembrance – the reach of memory – matters as much as history.

~Oliver, Neil (2009-12-17). A History Of Scotland (Kindle Locations 145-147). Orion Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

I then showed them the brief intro from his TV show, because it is a powerful example how a landscape changes over time.  From a tourism perspective, landscape is more than just the geographic representation of green spaces and cityscapes.  We derive, as does geography, a complete picture from understanding three prime environments: the economic, the socio-cultural, and the natural/man-made world.  Yet, Oliver delivers something more.  He asserts the time element into the equation.  That over time our point of view of those landscapes change, and are morphed into something with mythic tones.

Before memory or history – beneath everything – is the rock. We are shaped and tested by it. Just as we are of the people we call family, so we are of the land we walk on every day. Magic is elusive stuff, but in the ancient landscapes of Scotland there is the genuine shimmer. It’s also a tough and demanding place – much of it made more of storm-swept rock than anything sun-baked. This is important. It is the landscape that has authored the story of this place, and this people, far longer and more indelibly than any work of our own hands.

~ Oliver, Neil (2009-12-17). A History Of Scotland (Kindle Locations 147-151). Orion Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It is hard from students, at first, to understand the complexity that is tourism.  Mill and Morrison (2012) assert that tourism isn’t really an industry.  System, yes.  But more.  It isn’t just one entity, but a collection of entities within a specific landscape (a destination).  That it is more of an observable event, a phenomenon.  Yet, they articulate that “industry is a collection of entities producing the same goods and services (1)*, and tourism is nothing like an industry.  Here is where the waters become murky.  Tourism utilizes resources to create a collection of choices for individual travelers.  They produce goods and services to fulfill the expectations and wants of tourists.  Some of them don’t produce the same tangible and intangible elements.  But it is an industry when that collection of enterprises strive for the same goal in maximizing the capture of revenues in order to reward stakeholders and reinvest in the firm, destination.  Yes, tourism is a dynamic action; a behavior; a migration of people and resources to fulfill a need or a want, and thus creating loyalty.  We make promises every single day in tourism, and if we don’t deliver on those promises, more than likely our customers will go some place different.  They will choose another destination.  Tourism is an inter-woven tapestry of businesses.  They are inter-dependent and co-dependent on each other.  I would agree that they complement each other, but they are striving for one goal.  Tourism is rooted in promises, that intangible variable that is unique to each individual.  Promises are both input and outputs, associated with before, during and after travel.  That the observable event is ongoing, never-ending.  That as a business, no matter what area, we strive for mutually beneficial partnerships, and linkages to create value.  That is another promise.

Maybe industry isn’t the right word, and we need something more?  How is value measured with such shades of gray?  Is there black and white?  In today’s day and age of technology, an arm-chair traveler could be considered a tourist because they are utilizing and consuming resources from a destination.  What if they order a souvenir online and have it shipped to their place of residence, post travel?  What if they order up unique items from a destination because they want a bon voyage party?  Value has not been fully recognized from these individuals because they haven’t made a choice yet or their conversion doesn’t happen till a future date.  Tourism is complex.  When exactly do travelers enter into the system?

Crazy thought?  Sure, but with the advances of technology, and global uncertainty, will the Internet Highway be the destination of the future?  Will that be a new landscape?  Will a new even more complex tourism entity grow?  What about the value of these arm chair travelers that convert others?  Word of mouth, eWOM, is becoming critical with the application of technology.  Technology is another resource that needs to be addressed in that umbrella.

It is hard to measure total impact when tourism actions mirror every day life.  How do we know when a person pulls into a petrol station and fills the tank his purpose for that purchase?  Unless we ask, and gather that information as to the purpose of his trip will we understand exactly what is happening within that observable event.  This illustrates the point that perhaps we should not solely measure the value of tourism by numbers alone.  There is more to that confining digit that we readily see or imagine.  Ask the right questions.

So the debate continues.  Governments can continue to give tourism lip service, and stipulate that it isn’t important enough to the GDP.  We can’t discount the numbers.  We can’t discount the good that tourism does.  But that is for another post.

From that landscape, the resources for tourism sprout, and grow.  As managers, we strive to put heads in a beds, and butts in a seats.  We have to remember that we are a collection of individuals working together, and in competition for traveler choice.  A destination will utilize resources and the landscape will change.  Simplicity turns to complexity with continued development.  We must understand the parts of the puzzle as well as the whole puzzle to gauge impact.  To plan and strategize for the future.  As a manager we must remember the mantra:

Recall you are selling to the right person, the right product at the right time, for the right price, for the right location, having the right promotion, and employing the right people utilizing effective and efficient processes, and truthful, physical evidence, that is the right stories or testimonials to engage with the right customer.

Perhaps tourism is about creating and writing the story of life? (Another post)

Mill-Morrison. The Tourism System,  7th Edition. Kendall Hunt Publishing, Co., 08/2012. VitalBook file.

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