August 29, 2013

“Smart Tourism” is the Key to Success For destination resorts

By Todd Ballantine

Environmental Expert

Alpine atmosphere and wildflowers attract tourists year-round, worldwide.
Alpine atmosphere and wildflowers attract tourists year-round, worldwide.

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME works in a movie, but creating a successful resort is more than a Field of Dreams. In that fantasy film, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears THE VOICE and gambles everything to build an ephemeral baseball park–sort of a tourist attraction in an Iowa cornfield. It’s an archetypal tale, and in the end everyone lives happily ever after (or in the hereafter).

In the very physical world of the tourism industry, however, developing a destination resort should not be a dream or gamble. What looks like a “sure thing” isn’t necessarily paradise. Even the best-penned business plan may not sync with the natural site conditions, the local culture, or economy. Beyond dreamy landscape master plans and reams of staid engineering data , there is a deeper strategy for creating successful resorts that flourish in dramatic, natural locations and unique local economies. This method is “Smart Tourism.”


Choose a safe, low risk site. THE VIEW is usually the top drawing card for destination resorts. Dynamic natural resources such as ocean or mountains draw customers for recreation vacations that seed lifetime memories. But the ABSOLUTE FIRST THING resort developers must do is choose the best site. This is not necessarily the most awesome ocean or alpine view. Sure, the sea and mountains are scenic and inspiring. But what is the frequency of hurricanes? How quickly is the beach eroding due to sea level change? How close is the property located to forestland in high risk of wildfire? How quickly is the winter snowpack shrinking year by year? These physical dangers are business liabilities. They must be factored FIRST in the development plan. A change in nature is the quickest way to change the bottom line.

Meet generational demand. There are resorts around the world that rely on their heritage. And there are other resorts that never rest. The first type is guaranteed to decline as customers age and tourism demands shift. Example: every year, fewer Baby Boomers seek a long drive to secluded rustic site with poor WIFI service. On the other hand, Gen-X customers seek more social activities, active recreation variety , and 24-7 digital contact. Gen-Y tourists are a lesser-known demand, but research shows their preference for more active recreation, longer stays, and family visits. Imagine what comes next!

Upgrade often. Since we are facing changing climate, three changing generations, and a shift in consumer demand, resorts must always be in upgrade mode. This means preparing, adjusting and replenishing their natural resources and recreational activities. Example: Colorado ski resorts know the science: climate change will bring less snow year by year. The new trend will be to visit the Rockies for “Mountain Resort” activities such as hiking, off-road bicycling, and ecotourism. Other regions around the world: Take note.

Serve your customers and community. Smart Tourism leaders know that resorts need their neighbor communities, and these communities are bound to the resorts. The are partners, like it or not. But the relationship should be recognized and nourished. Resorts should promise more than seasonal jobs to a community. These facilities should generate longer term employment through real estate growth, year-round recreation, and continuing environmental management programs, from the beach to the lakes, forest and mountains. Likewise, resort communities should think outside of the resort box, managing growth that enhances community property values without degrading the quality of life for all.


A changing environment. Changing generations of tourists. Aging resorts. Growing communities tied to tourism have growing needs. This is the way it is in the life cycle to tourism. The old-school resort would ignore nature and the local community. This is a recipe for multi-level failure. Smart Tourism demands full responsibility by the tourism industry and the towns and cities that invited resorts in the first place. This is the untapped master plan for success in an uncertain future. But if you build it …