Episode #013 - #MumbrellaTravel Marketing Summit live panel event (Royal Caribbean, Airbnb, Palau Legacy Project)
In this special episode, co-hosts Lauren and Andrés lead a panel discussion titled ‘Taking responsibility for overtourism; can travel marketers do better?’. They’re joined on stage at the Mumbrella Travel Marketing Summit in Sydney by Susan Bonner, Vice President and Managing Director of Royal Caribbean in Australia and New Zealand, Sam McDonagh, Australia and New Zealand Country Manager at Airbnb and Laura Clarke, Co-Founder of the Palau Legacy Project.
Lauren kicks off the conversation asking the panel if they believe overtourism is a problem. Susan acknowledges that it is an issue that the travel industry is grappling with and, when it comes to the role that cruise lines play in overtourism, she says that some of that commentary is fair, but some of it is a byproduct of that fact that cruise lines are “floating hotels and we do get picked on a little bit.”
Sam elaborates on the challenge facing the industry saying that “overtourism is a problem if the people that are affected by it think it’s a problem.” He adds “let’s be clear that the way people travel has changed significantly over time. They will look to travel deeper and to have more local and authentic experiences. How we accommodate that… is certainly going to be an important thing in the future.”
Andrés then asks Laura for her perspective from the other side of this debate and as a founder of an initiative aimed at curbing the largesse of overtourism and the reason why she co-founded the Palau Legacy Project. Laura responds by saying the tiny South Pacific island nation was facing an almost overnight explosion in visitor numbers from 60,000 visitors per year to 160,000.
”Palauan culture says that everybody is welcome… but when the impact on their environment and their children's future was so drastic, something had to happen. My background is in communications and marketing. There was, very luckily for us, a team of marketers on the ground in Palau at the time, where we happen to be living there with corporate backgrounds. We were able to work with government to institute what became the Palau Pledge.”
And action on this complex issue is certainly at the forefront of travel operators minds, especially how they can work together with governments and communities to get the balance right, says Susan. “I think everyone has a responsibility to tell the story from the planning and collaboration of how you go into a destination, all the way through the experience.”
Drawing lessons from the approach taken by Royal Caribbean, Susan highlights the need for open dialogue with those affected by overtourism, saying “we come in, we talke with the community about what their needs are, infrastructure needs, guest experience. We have built schools in various communities in which education was a main issue for them. We have diverted tourists to other locations in which there was a concern about the number of people that were entering… It's about having conversation and collaboration so that this story doesn't get ahead and have a negative impact on all of us.”
Sam mentions the commitment that Airbnb has in the 81,000 cities where it has a presence that they “treat each city on its merit. If that city came to use and said that they had an issue, then we want to work with them and we want to help introduce regulations that would be considered fair and progressive… and that’s something we’re dedicated to doing.”
The panel then discusses the impact that social media and popular cultural trends have on inflating a destination’s desirability globally. Susan says that social media is a key factor in overtourism, as well as the “Game of Thrones effect” with destinations such as Iceland, Dubrovnik and Ireland boosted by their status as filming locations for the popular show. “Social media and other forms of media in which attention is drawn very quickly to specific locations that aren’t ready to absorb that capacity [mean] the community is almost on the back foot,” says Susan.
Lauren then asks Laura about the ripple effect of the Palau Pledge on the way other destinations deal with the challenge of overtourism. Laura says that they have been pleasantly surprised at the international engagement with the Palau Pledge, noting that both Hawaii and New Zealand have recently enacted similar, albeit not legally binding, initiatives asking visitors to honour and respect the destinations they are travelling in.
Laura mentions that one of the important aspects of any initiatives like the Palau Pledge is that they originate in the local culture and traditions, “New Zealand and Hawaii both have pledges that are based on Palau but they’re actually based, rooted in their own local culture of conservation. So the Pono Pledge in Hawaii is actually based on their culture of conservation, and the Tiaki Promise in New Zealand is based on their own ancient culture of conservation.”
Overtourism: a growing global problem // The Conversation
International tourist arrivals reach 1.4 billion two years ahead of forecasts // United Nations' World Tourism Organisation
Palau Pledge // Palau Legacy Project