Destinations from Canada to Argentina are pleased with their tourism growth but are also aware that they will need to fight to maintain it. The way forward should be focused on strengthening tourism and media relationships, capacity sharing and especially branding of destinations, as was underscored by the Regional Conference on Tourism Communications (TOURCOM) for the Americas, which concluded on Tuesday in Rosario, Argentina.
More than 600 delegates attended the event, which rounded up the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) regional conferences on tourism communications, following the First World Conference TOURCOM, held in January 2004 in Madrid.
“TOURCOM is part of a longstanding effort by UNWTO to change perceptions of our sector of the economy, to strengthen relationships with that important group of decision influencers in the media and to reform our own ways of doing business in the fast moving field of modern communications. It also gives an opportunity to showcase the region to the rest of the world,” said the special advisor to the UNWTO Secretary-General Geoffrey Lipman in his opening address.
“It comes at a time when our sector is performing well. Our growth in the past two years has been strong - ahead of GDP - and this region of Latin America has been a solid performer with 6% increase in arrivals in 2005 on top of 11% the previous year, with similar results in terms of revenues. There have also been important advances in airline connectivity, communications infrastructure and a sustainability mindset - which are the lifeblood of longer term tourism growth,” Mr Lipman asserted.
The conference focused on long term changes in tourism communications. American journalists - who represented a third of all participants - discovered that they “are an integral part of the tourism sector, not only as observers, while they should maintain their autonomy and critical approach”. Thirty speakers were talking about changes in tourism development, public relations, advertising, technology in tourism communications, the role of cinema, etc., but the greatest attention of all was given to the Canadian, Brazilian and Argentinean experiences in branding. Argentina also - for the first time - publicly presented their new brand.
The audience learned that it takes years to build a strong nation brand and image of a destination, and that it can be hurt or even destroyed in minutes. The session on crisis communications featured lessons from Avian Flu, accidents that may happen in tourist destinations and Mexico’s case study of rapid tourism recovery after the hurricane Wilma.
The conference was officially inaugurated by the Governor of Santa Fe province Jorge Obeid, who spoke about “the commitment of Governments for tourism development”, including supporting the media in their own contribution to tourism.
All participants agreed that the situation of American tourism is favorable, yet the TOURCOM showed where there are leakages and holes in cooperation. The media in the Americas are satisfied with the amount of information they receive from the governments, but warned that these should be more balanced, sincere and most of all, that both the public and the private sectors should facilitate more support to their associations and organize more press trips.
The Conference was jointly organized by the Argentinean Government and the UNWTO Press and Communications Department. Rok Klancnik, UNWTO Chief of Communications reflected “the latest TOURCOM events in Africa and the Americas were turning points for tourism communications in the two regions, but the real work is now only beginning, with implementation of all conclusions and observations, as the associations of travel and tourism journalists now expect the governments and the Organization to deliver on their pledges”.
Forthcoming TOURCOM conferences will focus on sub-region, such as Central Asia and Eastern Europe (Georgia next October) and Central America and the Caribbean (next year).