What do we really mean by the term ‘visitor economy’?
In this report, Phil Reddy, the Tourism Strategy Manager for the Northwest Development Agency reflects on the meaning of ‘Visitor Economy’, a term stated as being increasingly used as a replacement for ‘Tourism’.
This report builds on the experience gained in the Northwest and draws on the debate amongst academic researchers, regional tourism and visitor economy leaders and officers and cultural sector research specialists which took place at:
'Convergence: culture, knowledge and the visitor economy in the North West' - a joint think tank event between the Culture Observatory Intelligence Network, North West Universities Association and Northwest Regional Development Agency on 26th January 2006, Lancaster University.
This report suggests that these two terms mean different but complementary things, and puts forward a working definition of the visitor economy. It emphasises the importance of those managing destinations having a really good understanding of their visitors if they are to meet expectations. Knowing your customers enables you to design products, services and experiences that they will value, and therefore pay for. The idea that we have the ability to design destinations in a conscious way to meet visitors' expectations is not a novel one but it is not an idea or a capacity that is widely acknowledged or used at the level of a destination. The implications of this bear particularly on tourist boards, but also on local authorities. From being more concerned with promotion (their traditional territory), tourist boards become much more focused on strategic issues of product development. In turn, this new paradigm requires a very different set of skills to those they traditionally possess. The report concludes by emphasising that the many different actors involved in the visitor economy need to work together to achieve the goal that the Regional Development Agency is pursuing: of raising the gross value added that this sector of the economy generates.
The tourism strategy for the northwest of England is based on a vision of the region becoming the best destination for visitors in the country. Quite what being best means is not spelt out, but it is clear that the quality of the experience that the region's destinations offer to their visitors is a critical factor in making them and the region the best. Visitors' experiences of any trip start well before the journey and cover many different elements, with many different contributors. Many of those who contribute to the quality of the experience will not regard themselves as being in the tourism sector, and much of what visitors experience is also open to a wider public. Having a clear understanding of what we mean by the visitor economy and the roles of the different organisations in supporting this, will help everyone to deliver the quality of experience we aim to provide. Just like a good private sector customer-focused business, destinations need to design and plan their visitor-focused offer with a strong sense of purpose, and with a clear idea of the visitors they seek.