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IMIC 2017: The End of Tourism as We Know It

IMIC 2017 family photo.

IMIC 2017 family photo.

By Maria Paravantes

A living city should incorporate tourism, not the other way around. That in a sentence sums up what sector professionals should be aiming for.

Santorini Island ©Maria Paravantes

Santorini Island ©Maria Paravantes

To do that however local governments must be able to operate independently and promptly to challenges, laws must be implemented and violations strictly penalized, current technologies should be employed to manage newly emerging realities such as overtourism, the Chinese market will have the buying power in the coming years, sports and wellness are set to motivate travelers, gastronomy and ecotourism can survive only if farm land is protected, and lastly, DMOs must change focus and format.

The above are just some of the key conclusions reached at the IMIC 2017 conference, held last week on Santorini.

From Marketing to Management

“Destination management has changed as tourism has changed. This said, it is important to involve not only other disciplines like sociology and psychology but it is also very important to include the locals, those living in these spaces,” Harald Pechlaner, professor of tourism at Germany’s Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, told GTP Headlines on the sidelines of the conference.

Travel is now about emotions which depend on many variables and this is why DMOs must also change. A destination management organization was about marketing, now it is more about designing, experience and atmosphere,” he added.

Most of the delegates agree with Pechlaner, who is also scientific director at the Institute for Regional Development and Location Management at the European Academy of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy.

“A case in point is the city of Athens, which has gone from a non destination to a top travel choice,” says Paris Tsartas, professor of tourism at Harokopio University. “This accomplishment is to a great extent due to the fact that Athens has its own destination management agency. The Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA) has been instrumental to Athens’ success as a tourist destination,” Tsartas, who also presided over the IMIC conference, told GTP Headlines, adding that DMOs are now the necessary tools that will ensure tourism has a future.

“You need the tool to manage a destination and its visitors, and to bring all stakeholders to the table. Each party should then take the responsibility to implement decisions and be held accountable,” says Ioannis Spilanis, associate professor University of the Aegean, also representing the South Aegean Tourism Observatory.

“DMOs should be about marketing and management and as such should adapt to new realities. Marketing is no longer enough, we must now be able to manage a destination in order to keep it sustainable,” he told GTP Headlines.

One Tourist Too Many

Overtourism was one of the issues that concerned the IMIC17 delegates. It took on even more significance as Santorini was hosting this year’s conference.

Professor Marianna Sigala told GTP Headlines that overtourism is indeed a new reality. Technology, she said, can play a positive role in “managing the crowds”.

“A destination can be smart. You don’t have to necessarily limit the numbers but you do have to be selective, you have the product, you set the rules. Technology is a tool in the background,” she said referring to a ‘people allocation’ method that aims to decongest overcrowded areas while facilitating the travel experience through smart phones and mapping.

“It goes without saying that smart destinations are all about networks, collaboration of all parties involved,” says Sigala, a professor of tourism at the University of South Australia Business School and director of the Center for Tourism and Leisure Management (CTLM).

Diversity & the Chinese Traveler

Delegates and academics attending the IMIC17 all agreed that diversifying was key to ensuring tourism has a future. Gastronomy, ecotourism, sports tourism and events are just some of the ways to offer the restless traveler that special experience he’s seeking.

Tourism is not about geography anymore,” Pechlaner points out, “People are interested in themes, it’s about living spaces. In short, it’s about mobility, activity and experience.”

Santorini Experience 2017 © Elias Lefas

Santorini Experience 2017 © Elias Lefas

Sports tourism events have in the last five years attracted dozens of visitors to Greek destinations but a great deal of work still needs to be done, according to Petros Bouchoris, a lecturer at the Hellenic Open University.

“It’s undoubtedly an area with great potential for growth, and Greece is an ideal destination due to its geography and climate,” he tells GTP Headlines, but adds that “planning both long- and short-term, having a clear vision in place and setting a target,” are vital if Greece wants to capitalize on the interest.

A Chinese tourist poses for a ‘selfie’ at the archaeological site of Akrotiri.

As for the profile of the future traveler to Greece, the Chinese have the clout. The so-called “sugar generation” – 18-30-year-olds from one-child families are highly educated, speak languages, are technology literate, seeking adventure, socially responsible and have the money.

“These young people do everything on their smartphones. The majority does not plan holidays in advance, they prefer to travel independently and they are willing to spend,” Maria Zisouli, marketing and communication consultant in tourism strategy, told GTP Headlines, “but you have to have something to propose, you must have a strategy in place and above all be consistent.”

IMIC 2017 Conference

IMIC 2017 Conference

Zisouli underlined the need for travel agents to re-focus their services. “In view of this vastly growing market the travel agent’s role must change. He must have options and be ready to respond to different needs.”

The IMIC event, organized by Heliotopos Conferences, came to a productive close on Saturday with a wine-tasting event and Greek lunch. It is scheduled tentatively to take place in two years’ time most likely on the island of Chios.

The Greek Travel Pages (GTP) was a media sponsor of the 13th IMIC 2017 held together with the 5th Aegean University Tourism meet last week at the Petros M. Nomikos Conference Center on Santorini.


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