The Tourism Layer Cake – Who is the real Boss?

The management of tourism in this country is handled by a wide variety organizations, most have mandates as diverse as the products they sell and represent. If you are a tourism operator, navigating these organizations to figure out where to you should spend your money and your time could be as confusing as navigating an Ikea store on a Saturday.

Why is this? I have maintained throughout my career that the tourism industry is one of the most analyzed, studied, and layered industries there is. The ‘tourism funnel’ is full of organizations all with the best intentions in mind, but sometimes they miss the mark due structural complexity which ultimately creates confusion.

Take Ontario, Canada as an example. Tourism layers really stack up, and in some places even overlap:

  • Operator
  • Industry Specific Associations (ie. Private Campground Associations, Hotel and Motel Associations etc.)
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Convention & Visitor Bureaus /Business Improvement Associations
  • Local Tourist Associations
  • Municipalities
  • Counties
  • Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs 1through13)
  • Provincial Industry Association (TIAO)
  • Province (Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)
  • Province (Ministry of Tourism)
  • National Industry Association (TIAC)
  • National (Canadian Tourism Commission)

Looking at this structure, no wonder it seems daunting to your local business or attraction to determine where and how to become involved. Recently in Ontario, similar to British Columbia, the province has formed regional tourism organizations in order to try to make the system more efficient. The goal is to create resource rich, larger geographic organizations designed to have the clout to make a large impact in the marketplace. Will this replace some of the layers? In our opinion, likely not but in a reality of global competition, it will certainly ratchet up the marketing machine.

So why are there so many layers in tourism? Tourism is an industry that is very visible and can shape the ebb and flow of a community. A lot of the attractions and assets in tourism are publically owned or managed (i.e. parks, rivers, mountains, windy roads etc.) and this brings a lot of different groups to the table right off the bat. Then add in the businesses that make their living off of these assets, their associations, supporting attractions and very quickly the layers begin to form.

Local governments like to get into the action for purely economic development reasons. A healthy tourism industry means higher assessments and more money into the local system. Chambers of Commerce get involved almost by default. When a high portion of their members are tourism based, it very quickly shapes how the chamber rolls out its marketing and promotional plans. Local tourism associations sprout up when there is a weaker municipal tourism effort and the industry has to take on the task. As the geography broadens, sometimes representatives of more local organizations join together to form collectives that enable them to raise capital and reach further markets. Provincial governments are in the game for reasons similar to local governments – simply because tourism is big business and has the potential to generate significant tax revenues. Ironically the operators are in the game to deliver a high quality experience and to make money. Should the industry be at the top of the structure of the bottom? That is debatable but one thing everyone needs to remember is that all of the layers represent the industry, the very delivery agents of the products and services.

There is a shift in Ontario to remix the layers to see if it creates a more focused financially viable approach to tourism marketing. Will it solve all of the issues? Likely not, but one thing that is clear is that we need to continually talk about and work on ways to refine the system in the best interests of the visitor, local communities, government, and the real tourism ‘Cake Boss’, the operator.

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1 Comment

Filed under destination development, ontario tourism, tourism, Tourism Development, Tourism Management

One response to “The Tourism Layer Cake – Who is the real Boss?

  1. Pingback: 13 Tourism Regions of Ontario, who's using Social Media?

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