De­vel­op­ing Tourism Routes

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Mar­lien Lourens.

Some ob­servers de­scribe the no­tion of ‘route de­vel­op­ment' as the world's best hope to se­cure sus­tain­abil­ity in travel and tourism. The con­cept of tourism routes refers to an “ini­tia­tive to bring to­gether a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions un­der a uni­fied theme and thus stim­u­late en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity through the de­vel­op­ment of an­cil­lary prod­ucts and ser­vices”. Route tourism is thus a mar­ket-driven ap­proach for tourism des­ti­na­tion de­vel­op­ment.

In sev­eral parts of the world, the con­cept of ru­ral trails or her­itage routes has been used, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of pro­mot­ing ru­ral tourism. Routes seem to be a par­tic­u­larly good op­por­tu­nity for the de­vel­op­ment of less ma­ture ar­eas with high cul­tural re­sources that ap­peal to spe­cial in­ter­est tourists, who of­ten, not only stay longer, but also spend more to pur­sue their par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est. Routes ap­peal to a great va­ri­ety of users such as overnight vis­i­tors who visit the route as part of a spe­cial in­ter­est holiday, or day vis­i­tors who fre­quent the route (or part of it) on ex­cur­sions.

The es­sen­tial con­cept of route tourism is sim­ple, namely that of the link­ing to­gether a se­ries of tourism at­trac­tions in or­der to pro­mote lo­cal tourism by en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to travel from one lo­ca­tion to an­other.

The de­vel­op­ment of tourism routes offers op­por­tu­ni­ties for the for­ma­tion of lo­cal de­vel­op­ment part­ner­ships. Some of the best and most suc­cess­ful ex­am­ples of such ‘ru­ral routes' are the de­vel­op­ment of wine or food cir­cuits, which have been widely re­searched in Europe, North Amer­ica and Aus­trala­sia.

In South Africa, con­sid­er­able ac­tiv­ity also sur­rounds the de­vel­op­ment of ‘route tourism', in­volv­ing a link­age to­gether of the tourism re­sources of a num­ber of smaller cen­tres and col­lec­tively mar­ket­ing them as a sin­gle tourism des­ti­na­tion re­gion. For many South African small towns, route tourism is a vi­tal com­po­nent of lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. The de­vel­op­ment of wine routes as part of the strong and grow­ing in­ter­est in spe­cial in­ter­est, wine tourism rep­re­sents one of the most well-known ex­am­ples.

Tourism is an im­por­tant eco­nomic sec­tor in Africa within more than half of Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa coun­tries. The pos­si­bil­i­ties of tourism are of grow­ing in­ter­est to gov­ern­ments and donor or­gan­i­sa­tions in re­spect of poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. In­deed it is re­garded sig­nif­i­cant that the South African Govern­ment's Trade and In­dus­try Cham­ber, through its Fund for Re­search into In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment, Growth and Equity (FRIDGE) com­mis­sioned the de­vel­op­ment of a strate­gic plan for routes and com­mu­nity-based tourism in 2005 (ECI Africa, 2006).

Steps to suc­cess­ful route tourism de­vel­op­ment

At the out­set it must be recog­nised that most des­ti­na­tions in­volved in route tourism in South Africa are emerg­ing des­ti­na­tions. It is ev­i­dent that these des­ti­na­tions need guide­lines to as­sist them through their de­vel­op­ment phases. The de­vel­op­men­tal phases of routes have been iden­ti­fied as es­tab­lish­ment and po­si­tion­ing, growth and ma­tu­rity, as graph­i­cally por­trayed in Fig­ure 5.1. The var­i­ous phases of de­vel­op­ment as shown in Fig­ure 5.1 are recog­nised by spe­cific characteristics. Each phase and its characteristics are de­scribed be­low. Fig­ure 5.1: Process of Es­tab­lish­ing and Po­si­tion­ing of a Route Tourism Des­ti­na­tion

When a new route des­ti­na­tion is de­vel­oped, it is usu­ally un­recog­nised in the mar­ket place with only a small num­ber of vis­i­tors to the area and limited tourism in­fra­struc­ture. Dur­ing this phase com­mit­ted lead­er­ship

is re­quired to see the po­ten­tial and de­velop a vi­sion for the re­gion. The es­tab­lish­ment and con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion phase of a route as shown in Fig­ure 5.1 con­tains nine steps, which could take be­tween one and five years to com­plete. Pre­ci­sion and inclusiveness are re­quired dur­ing the es­tab­lish­ment and con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion phase to en­sure the de­sired longterm ef­fects.

Firstly, the route must be con­cep­tu­alised based on solid mar­ket re­search, which iden­ti­fies key tar­get mar­kets and their re­quire­ments. Mar­ket re­search must be con­ducted on a con­tin­u­ous ba­sis to en­sure that the lat­est tourism trends are in­cluded into ob­jec­tives and strate­gies for the area. When bud­gets are tight, it is nec­es­sary to align the des­ti­na­tion to a lo­cal, re­gional or pro­vin­cial tourism au­thor­ity or link to a lo­cal uni­ver­sity to pro­vide stu­dents or vol­un­teers to as­sist with mar­ket re­search.

Se­condly, an au­dit of tourism prod­ucts within the des­ig­nated area must be con­ducted. This au­dit may in­clude the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, man­made prod­ucts and hu­man as­sets.

As­sess­ments of ex­ist­ing prod­uct must be con­ducted to en­sure that prod­ucts are keep­ing up to date with the chang­ing dy­nam­ics of the tourism in­dus­try. The as­so­ci­a­tion must clearly de­ter­mine a min­i­mum stan­dard (equal or higher than the na­tional grad­ing sys­tem) for mem­bers and a sys­tem for reg­u­lar re-as­sess­ment. Fail­ing to set min­i­mum stan­dards, might jeop­ar­dise tourist ex­pe­ri­ences in the area and cause neg­a­tive mar­ket­ing which, in the long run, may re­sult in un­suc­cess­ful des­ti­na­tions.

Unique sell­ing fea­tures

The third step is to scru­ti­nise the tourism as­sets and iden­tify the unique sell­ing fea­tures or ex­pe­ri­ences of the area and its prod­ucts. Unique fea­tures are ex­tremely im­por­tant to dis­tin­guish and po­si­tion the des­ti­na­tion in the mar­ket place. Once the unique sell­ing fea­tures have been iden­ti­fied, a macro level strate­gic plan must be con­ducted that com­bines the mar­ket re­quire­ments and the tourism as­sets of the re­gion, pro­vid­ing a con­sol­i­dated ap­proach to­wards the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of the area. It is im­por­tant that the area con­sults its lo­cal, re­gional and pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties re­gard­ing its strat­egy and fu­ture plans for the area. This will en­sure that the en­vis­aged route co­in­cides with the macro plan­ning for the re­gion and po­ten­tially could link with broader plan­ning or fund­ing ini­tia­tives. The next step will be to de­ter­mine the po­ten­tial size of the pos­si­ble mem­ber­ship base.

Tourism prod­ucts with the abil­ity to com­ple­ment the unique fea­tures and main themes of the route must be lob­bied to join the or­gan­i­sa­tion from the early stages. If a le­gal struc­ture is not yet in place, le­gal ad­vice must be sought on the best struc­ture suit­able for any po­ten­tial man­age­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion. Once the or­gan­i­sa­tion is formed, spe­cific port­fo­lios for com­mit­tee mem­bers must be de­vel­oped ac­cord­ing to the iden­ti­fied strate­gic ob­jec­tives and to en­sure nom­i­nated mem­bers have the will­ing­ness and ex­pe­ri­ence to per­form within these port­fo­lios.

Men­tor­ship

It is ad­vis­able to in­cor­po­rate men­tor­ship within the com­mit­tee and sub­com­mit­tees or task teams for sus­tain­abil­ity of skills. Care must be taken not to in­cor­po­rate prod­ucts that are not com­ple­men­tary to tourism or the en­vi­sioned brand­ing and val­ues of the area for rev­enue gain. The as­so­ci­a­tion should avoid putting dom­i­nant mem­bers who act for per­sonal or po­lit­i­cal gain into man­age­ment po­si­tions. It is also im­por­tant to be in­clu­sive of all stake­hold­ers within the re­gion to en­sure that the ben­e­fits are shared by all mem­bers of the com­mu­nity.

Fur­ther, des­ti­na­tion man­agers should en­cour­age prod­uct di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in the area by putting sys­tems in place to in­cen­tivise the cor­rect prod­uct mix for the area. For ex­am­ple, it is not healthy for an area to have only ac­com­mo­da­tion es­tab­lish­ments. Ac­cord­ingly, an as­so­ci­a­tion in an area with many ac­com­mo­da­tion es­tab­lish­ments should have high join­ing fees for prod­ucts fall­ing within this cat­e­gory.

Re­search con­ducted as part of this study shows the im­por­tance of unique at­trac­tions in a des­ti­na­tion and how these prod­ucts could be used as draw-cards to in­duce the use of sup­port ser­vices. Spe­cial events can also be used to pro­duce the same ef­fect. About the au­thor: Mar­lien Lourens wrote the con­tent of this ar­ti­cle as part of a dis­ser­ta­tion doc­u­ment sub­mit­ted to the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, School of Ge­og­ra­phy, Ar­chae­ol­ogy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies in ful­fil­ment of the re­quire­ments for a Mas­ters De­gree in Tourism in July 2007.

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