What Makes Good Tourism?

You know what good tourism feels like. When you are visiting a great place, like Fogo Island, Luang Prabang or Sisimiut, you can feel the healthy balance that good tourism creates.  That balance is the result of (mostly) everyone being happy with the tourism industry – firstly residents, but also tourists and governments. 

Let’s call these places ‘successful destinations.’ This, by the way, is not a life-time appointment. You’ll remember Prof. Butler’s tourism lifecycle model, and you’ll have seen great destinations of your 1996 gap year disintegrate into the overtouristed destinations of 2019.  Good tourism takes good governance, management and oversight – day after day, year over year.  

When we look at successful destinations, we can see that there are specific strategies they pursue, year after year, to ensure long-term, good tourism: 

1.They measure value:  Successful destinations base their strategies on the value of tourists, not the volume.  Good tourism isn’t necessarily expensive or elitist, but it is quality.  To do this, destinations need to measure beyond just the number of arrivals.  In addition, they  track the progress of indicators like:  

  • Spend per tourist
  • Length of stay
  • Dispersal around the destination
  • Year round employment in tourism (vs seasonal employment)
  • Tourists visiting in the off-season

2. They ensure the community is pro-tourism: Tourists need to feel welcome – and people will welcome tourists when they feel that tourism is a positive force in their communities. It is a positive force if it’s improving their way of life, not harming it.  Infrastructure should not be built only for tourists; it should consider the needs of locals first. Tourism is a positive force when all voices are heard, all cultures celebrated, including those from minority communities.Additionally, the community needs to feel like they have a say in tourism development and that there are effective mechanisms to participate in the conversation. New Zealand surveys its population once a year, in a survey called ‘mood of the nation’ to measure how people are feeling about tourism.


New Zealand surveys residents annually to gauge their feelings towards tourism.

3. They have clearly articulated limits of acceptable change: Destination managers (with stakeholder participation) have clearly defined how much they are willing to see their place changed. This changes the focus away from numbers to impact.  Limits of acceptable change focus on qualitative factors, not just numbers. There’s no scientific method for this – it comes from dialogue amongst all the parties.

4. They are safe: Good destinations are safe places. They are safe from political or military conflicts and they ensure that tourists are safe by requiring guides to be certified, have regulations related to rescue or equipment, etc.

5. They are four season: Successful destinations are able to spread tourism across the year to ensure consistency for the industry.

6. Government prioritizes sustainable tourism: Governments that understand the value of tourism will prioritize it and create policies that increase competitiveness, spur innovation and support the industry. Destination managers have a lobbying role to ensure that tourism is understood and prioritized at the highest levels. They ensure that qualified and trained teams lead the government bodies on tourism.

7. Charge a premium: Tourism is a price-sensitive industry, but fighting on price is a race to the bottom. Successful destinations don’t do it. Tourism suppliers should seek to add value to their products and charge accordingly.

Wolwedans Bed

This bed is located at Wolwedans in Namibia, one of the most exclusive resorts in the country. To stay here is expensive – but it’s not the bed that has value – it’s the sense of exclusivity, the amazing wildlife viewing, the knowledgeable guide and the feeling of being alone in the world. Namibia understands that to charge a premium, it’s not necessarily about the infrastructure – it is about the services.

8. They support entrepreneurs: Successful destinations understand that small businesses are the backbone of the industry and the people most likely to innovate. They create schemes and programs that help them succeed. 

9. The experience at the destination delivers on the brand promise: And the brand is differentiated: At the end of the day, none of this matters if we aren’t delivering exceptional experiences to the tourist. Successful destinations deliver on the brand promise that they make during their marketing.

10. Take climate action from strategy to tactics: Travel is a major contributor to global warming, and travellers care about the planet. Leading destinations understand this and  set policies that acknowledge global warming and encourage the tourism sector to minimize carbon emissions in every way possible. This includes outlining goals, incentives, and measurement tools. Successful destinations commit to the climate issue with dedicated and persistent focus, for example creating a role for this within policy teams. Scotland and Finland are examples of destinations integrating climate action into their tourism development and promotional strategies – because they know their long-term success relies on it.

Do you have anything to add ? We’d love to hear from you: hola@goodtourism.com