Tourism is one of humanity’s most ancient activities, the first civilizations used to travel to satisfy their curiosity and trade.
Also, in the religious field, the pilgrims were the first example of travels by people who visited popular destinations like La Mecca.
But tourism has had a colonialist resemblance for years, and the tourist a few connotations of product consumption on a tourist destination that begins to expire. A short-term vision that, as in the world economy, tends to be measured from a just quantitative point of view, as opposed to the sustainable development of communities and their surroundings.
“The European tourism must have a transition from a quantitative growth model to a qualitative model, that leads to a stable and sustainable development”, said the European Parliament in its resolution from 2015.
How to rewrite a territory? Designing for the ecosystem
Tourism is not an activity that is isolated from the rest of a territory’s activities that can be designed in an isolated way. Just like we cannot design a tourist strategy thinking only about the tourist, the user I mean, that is; limiting and limited.
The user-centred design designs to offer solutions to user problems, and it works very well from a consumer’s point of view, but it is a myopic approach that leaves out many other variables.
And it is that the destinations are due to their settlement, the people who inhabit it and the ecosystem to which they belong.
The residents are your clients! The community is everything! said Jack Johnson, public policies director at Destinations International, in the latest edition of his annual convention.
The tourism of the future will be linked to the community and will have more sustainable access, rooted in a prosperous territory where they can offer the best of themselves and the place, nurture the exchange, the sense of belonging and develop mutually beneficial relations.
The people, culture, patrimony, traditions and the natural territory where they are, are a determining part of a destination’s success if we focus on the sustainable development of a community in direct relation with the people who visit it, a strategy that benefits everyone can be developed.
This, linked with the fact that tourism is an important source of income, can help empower communities while regenerating local ecosystems.
In any case, it goes through more sustainable movements, flow control and respectful management with the environment. Also, to search for new ways to generate income, linked to the residents’ skills and abilities.
Let’s see how we can link both things.
Releasing the potential. How to platformize a territory?
If there’s something the collaborative economy has brought, is the possibility to incorporate the citizen in the production of value. If platforms like WordPress, Twitter, Instagram, democratized content generation, others like Amazon eliminate intermediaries to put the providers in direct contact with the end customer.
In the collaborative economies platforms’ case, this is amplified once they put two people in direct contact, so they can obtain what they need from each other. And that’s how platforms like Airbnb. Blablacar or Etsy were born.
Later on, what in the beginning was p2p, it became another distribution channel for any enterprise generating positive and some very negative externalities, such as gentrification.
Recovering the citizen as a producer of value, we can say that anyone, with what he knows, with what he has at his disposal, his experience, time and properties can generate value and exchange that value with other people.
To design an ecosystem strategy means to create the proper space for it to happen, to promote the exchange and the direct relationships under a common narrative, and a value proposition for each of the ecosystem’s entities, aligned with general objectives.
If we move away from the tourist product as a short-term or immediacy consumable and think about identifying other productive models linked to traditions, culture and history, to the essence of the place to empower them, we can say that anyone can unleash their potential by generating products and services adapted to the hospitality sector, responding at the same time to the growing demand for authenticity.
It can be thought from: How I leverage myself on the existing platforms to generate local development? or How I organize a territory from a platform mindset?.
Leveraging on the existing to generate value
A person with a house, apartment or room can offer accommodation based on models like Airbnb. The company itself signed an agreement with The National Commission of Women in India to teach women in the rural field to work as hosts.
Middle-term models like Spotahome can give answers to travellers who want to stay for a season, around 6 months, in a specific place with a good Wi-Fi connection and in contact with the local ecosystem, as the digital nomads or Independent Locations Workers do, a sector that is growing and for which many cities are competing to attract, like France, that launched a visa for workers in the world of technologies, renewable for 4 years, without the need to be linked to a diploma, free and expandable to the family.
And what do you tell me about Helsinki with its recently released City as a Service model (CaaS) that intends to attract the best international workers in the new technologies area. The competition started a long time ago and the rural world keeps attracting thanks to its great potential.
Address, the most groundbreaking, is a Japanese platform that puts empty houses at your disposal for better use, helping create connections with the local communities through a subscription model.
A local with a strong knowledge about the territory can act as a tourist guide and show the best of the territory through platforms like Likealocal and Vayable, where they fit every type of experiences or create meetup style plans like in Plan&Go.
A foodie or someone who likes to cook can organize dinners at his house like/through Eatwith to connect gastronomy, locals and visitors.
The French tourist offices are developing a whole strategy based on the concept of “Tiers Lieu” or “Third Place”, a social environment that is separated from the two usual social environments that are home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”), spaces like cafeterias, libraries or parks, where they can find foreigners and locals to establish interesting connections. On the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region they have mapped until now 118 coworking, 15 studios, 14 fab labs, 45 hybrids where they accommodate travellers, promote collaborative economy initiatives, give information and coordinate the entire local ecosystem.
Local artisans can sell their products and gain visibility through platforms such as Etsy, which makes agreements with local municipalities to teach residents who wish to work through the platform and generate income.
Blablacar has laid the foundations for interregional displacement. Interesting and sustainable micro-mobility initiatives are being developed for destinations.
We need to move forward through the long way to reach sustainable models, but the train, as always, is a good alternative, and like in this Germany’s leading rail company campaign Deutsche Bahn, there is no need to travel kilometres nor across the sea to have unforgettable trip experiences.
There is a long way to go to generate innovation in a sector that, until now, has focused solely on tourists and has followed the inertia of promotion dynamics when everything was about to be done. The reality is different now, and the consumption habits have changed due to the digitalization and the possibilities that the platform offers, both to use them as a way, and to design platform strategies on the territory itself.
The ecosystem strategies will focus on the necessary interactions and services offered by the strategy design for everyone’s good and their evolution, with a clear narrative based on what we want as a city or territory model and its sustainable development, putting the citizen in the center.