‘It’s Just a Flesh Wound’ – The Tourism Manager or The Black Knight?

June 2, 2016 - Adam Bates



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Tourism or Destination Management is an interesting idea. But listening to recent discussions at the TMI Hot Topic in Leicester on how destinations are coping with new and emerging travel distribution systems including the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), how they are responding to emerging products such as those distributed through AirBNB and how they are dealing with the whimsical funding of marketing whether from private or public sector funders, I can’t help but wonder how much is actually being managed?

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the most common use of the verb ‘Manage’ as ‘to be in charge of a business, organisation or undertaking’.

So let’s run through the list shall we?

Do Destination Managers manage the accommodation sector? The attractions? The eating and drinking offer? Public realm and public spaces such as parks or beaches? Do they manage the weather, parking, public transport or roads? Do they control all that is said or spoken about a place and do they manage the media? Do they manage the way local people provide a warm and friendly welcome? Do they manage rubbish, waste and public toilets, lighting, benches and public safety? Do they manage how the experience/s are sold?

The truth is that for most destinations and most destination managers, individuals tasked with growing the visitor economy manage none of these things.

Does that mean it is hopeless? Well of course not as we see a variety of places where this list of functions seems to work better than in others and I don’t believe that happens by accident.

The answer of course may be down to the leadership and commitment of politicians and key businesses; the relative significance of tourism to the places economy; a collective ambition for tourism to meet the needs of local communities in terms of jobs.

But the answer also lies in the ability of those charged with running tourism services as Tourism Managers or Destination Managers to influence others.

They can’t manage these things. They can’t control these things. But they can influence what others do, say and think. And they need to find a way to keep everyone focussed on the same prize. They are more than just powerful personalities who can win over others. They understand that to have influence they have to be able to do some of the following:

  1. They listen as much as they speak. They understand what visitors are saying. They understand their businesses and the challenges they face. They realise what the political and area priorities are and where they fit into those.
  2. They are consistent and passionate. They build an understanding among stakeholders of what they are doing and why by repeating themselves until they hear the messages coming back at them.
  3. They are confident and assertive but not aggressive. They listen to other arguments and find the holes but know that in winning arguments they need to let those on opposing sides have a gracious way out.
  4. They are flexible and quick to respond to emerging opportunities and changing circumstances. Fleet of foot yet focussed.
  5. They are personal and they build trust. They are bridge builders that aim to build consensus but not at any price.
  6. They are focussed on actions not just arguments. They keep coming back to the outcomes they are trying to achieve and they link their actions to those outcomes.

So what implications does this have for destination management?

  1. Stop trying to manage the experience, the marketing and the product. Start influencing it. The role is one of curator of an experience rather than manager.
  2. Be visitor focussed. Local businesses are not your destinations customers.
  3. Question whether you should be delivering or enabling. When booking.com sell 1000 times more bednights than your destination website ask whether you are using others effectively to do your selling job for you.

Some are tethered to the roles which look very similar to those being performed 20 or 30 years ago. They remind me of the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, as the arms and legs are gradually cut off, he remains tenaciously full of bravado bating his attacker to continue fighting with the challenge ‘come here I’ll bite your ankles’.

But like the Black Knight, when all you are left with is your voice, think hard about how well you are using it get others to come together and collaborate.

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