How will tourism bounce back from the global pandemic? What do our tourist boards need to do to improve the tourism offer? And should we change the way we measure the success of a destination? We put these questions to a leading European expert in tourism and destination management. Miguel Gallego has a decade of experience in destination marketing and since 2012 has been the Head of Marketing and Communications at the European Travel Commission based in Brussels. We caught up with him at the 5th International Rural Tourism Congress held in Hotel Croatia in Cavtat.
Is this your first time in Dubrovnik and what are your first impressions?
It’s actually the third time that I’ve been to Dubrovnik, and I really love it here. I haven’t had time yet this time to see the Old City but I have been there on my previous two visits. It’s funny because the first time I visited as before the global pandemic, around five or six years ago, and then I was here last September. It was great to see the contrast between those two times. I felt that I could really enjoy the city, the first visitors were arriving but you had space for yourself. Do we really want to go back those times before the pandemic and the overcrowding?
Is success based on rooms filled? Mark Thomas interviews Miguel Gallego - Photo - Klaudio Pozniak
Why is destination management so important? And what does it provide that a tourist board doesn’t?
Tourism management is required and you really see why it is important in a city like Dubrovnik. Tourism boards have traditionally focused on a lot on promotion, and promotion has been based on quantity, basically bringing more and more visitors so that they spend more money. The pandemic provided us all in tourism with an opportunity to rethink. All of a sudden overcrowding disappeared due to the pandemic and now we have to make sure that we don’t go back to the times from before the pandemic.
We have spent the past two years saying that we have a unique opportunity, let’s rethink the model and develop in a sustainable manner. Really it’s about changing how we measure success. Is success based on rooms filled? Or on visitor’s expenditure? Or maybe on local satisfaction? This is where a tourism board needs to play a role, to move from promotion to management. And finding a way that success in a destination should be measured. There really isn’t one solution for every destination. For example, one parameter could be perception. Are visitors talking positively about your destination. Just counting tourist numbers isn’t enough. Job creation could also be a factor.
Of course this last period has been hard - Photo - Klaudio Poznjak
How confident are you that tourism in Europe will bounce back this year? Have we seen the back of the pandemic effect and will the Ukraine war effect travel in general?
We are very confident that tourism will bounce back, the tourism sector has known other such crises and has always come back at some point. This is a very resilient industry. People will always want to travel it’s just in human nature. Of course this last period has been hard, and we all needed help from the governments to survive, but the willingness of people to travel is still there. We have been developing virtual tours over the past two years but nothing can replace the feeling of actual travel.
The majority of travel restriction shave been lifted and tourism is coming back. The majority of airlines have started flying, now there is the matter of consumer confidence which needs to be measured. To what extent are people afraid of travelling abroad? What happens if they get sick abroad? All these fears need to be managed. The Ukraine situation will have an effect, but we need to see how much. It has had an effect already on the cost of energy.
There seems to be a big difference with tourist from Europe travelling in Europe this year and travellers from further destinations, such as the US and Far East, due to the situation in Ukraine
Yes, during the pandemic Europe basically closed. So nobody from outside of the European Union could enter, this fortunately is not the case anymore. Yes, tourism within Croatia and within Europe will this year come very close to reaching the levels of before the pandemic. For long haul destinations this will take longer. Although we are seeing airlines from the US returning their routes to Europe. The demand in the US is high, and one point could be that many destinations in Southeast Asia are still in lockdown and effectively closed to tourists. This could mean that more Americans are looking to Europe this year. Of course, not to the levels of pre-pandemic. Russian airspace is of course closed so this adds an additional burden on airlines who have to fly longer flight paths, meaning more time and extra fuel costs. Our forecast for a full recovery of international tourism would be 2025.
I think Dubrovnik has a strong brand - Photo - Klaudio Poznjak
How do you think Dubrovnik is viewed on the European travel market? We often get grouped with Venice and Barcelona due to the number of cruise ships.
I think Dubrovnik has a strong brand, everybody knows Dubrovnik. From the Game of Thrones in recent times which opened the city to a whole new market, but before that it was a well-known destination. Sometimes it is known for the good reasons and sometimes for the bad ones. Dubrovnik is one of the destinations in Europe that has suffered from overcrowding because of the cruise industry. I think you have a beautiful city and a great tourist offer, but maybe it is just a question of diversifying the tourism offer. Offer the wines, the olive oil and rural tourism, this will disperse tourism. Making guests aware of the mountains, the nature, the sporting options, the hiking and biking offer, all of these are a great way to spread the load.
And finally what mistakes do you think tourist boards make when planning their marketing strategy? How can they get more bang for their buck?
It’s about being niche and being specific. Don’t fall into the sea of sameness, everybody trying to do the same thing. Don’t just think about bringing more and more people. Find the offers that you have which are unique and how to motivate people to come and see and experience them. In the so-called “passion communities” people will travel to places that other people will not go just because there is one thing that they love and that can only be done in that place. That may be wine lovers, looking for a specific type of grape variety that only grows in Dubrovnik, or bird watchers who can only see that bird in that place. Be more niche, be more specific, and don’t just try to do what everybody else is doing. Showcase why your place is unique.