Some travel destinations are simply “born with” assets such as beautiful beaches, breath-taking landscapes and rich cultural heritage, making them established and overcrowded. Throughout history these places didn’t really have to fight for attention or fight competition.
In recent years, however, fuelled by innovations caused by digitalization and the Internet, a new kind of travel destinations has started to emerge – destinations created by people with great ideas.
While working on one of our regional development projects, tourism innovation in beautiful East Sweden region, I stumbled across an interesting 2014 travel trend report made by Kairos Future. The report maps out some of the most important travel trends and developments including digitalization as an important driver of the development of micro segmentation, personalized planning and booking support, as well as new tech innovations and sustainability.
The one trend that really caught my attention and amused me immensely is man-made travel destinations trend, proving that everything is possible with a little bit of creativity and imagination.
You would have probably never guessed, but the biggest tourist attraction in Sweden is a shopping centre! Gekås Ullared superstore is situated to the northeast of the town of Falkenberg, currently has a surface area of 35,000 m². In 2013 Gekås had 4.8 million visitors, with the record for the number of customers on a single day made on 30 July 2013, when 27,500 customers shopped in the store. The fact that customers drive 230 km one way, on average, to visit Gekås, just adds to its star rating in Sweden.
Among places that were completely transformed, Ruhrgebiet in Germany is well worth the mention. Previously one of the hottest of industrial regions, Ruhrgebiet has managed to step into a new era by converting the entire area to a meeting place of culture and entertainment.
Other currently successful man-made travel destinations have become famous thanks to entertainment and mass media. The camping site Böda Camping in Sweden, managed to increase their bookings by 25% after three seasons of the reality show “Böda Camping.”
There are also several examples of destination-building through films and books, with New Zealand perhaps being the most famous one with 8% of visitors claiming that the movie The Hobbit was a reason to visit the country, 13% of visitors in 2013 having done some kind of Hobbit-related activity and 100,000 visitors to Hobbiton village movie set.
Additionally, there are numerous well-known examples of such places from all over the world including China, where the movie “Beijing Meets Seattle” broke box-office records, causing inquiries about Seattle by Chinese tourists to jump 120%. In turn, “Visit Seattle” tourism office reported that the number of Chinese travellers visiting Seattle increased by 90 % after the film’s debut.
Adding to the list of new and booming destinations in 2013/14 is the example of Colorado. Exactly how the legalization of marijuana in this US state will affect tourism is yet to be seen. However searches for Denver hotels in the first quarter of 2014 increased by 25% when compared to the same period in the previous year. Interest in hotel bookings in Colorado, as a whole, increased by 78% from April 18 to April 20 and by 7% overall for the first quarter of 2014 according to International Business Times. Such is the interest in visiting Colorado, that tour operators have sprouted like weeds to teach visitors the ins and outs of the emerging industry.
The most unintentional developing destination must be the village of Borja in northeast Spain, where the failed repair of a painting in a church went viral and attracted 57,000 visitors to the church in order to see the result in real life. 82-year-old woman Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to fix up “Ecce Homo”, a flaking, century-old image of Christ painted on a pillar in the church making her a global laughing stock. The touched-up result resembled a pale-faced ape with cartoon-style eyes and a crooked smudge for a mouth- so bad it became an instant Internet hit.
However, the riches from worldwide merchandising of the monkey-like image on anything from bottles of wine to coffee mugs and T-shirts, plus the entree fees have hopefully somewhat soothed the feelings in the village.
These examples show, that the tourism industry needs to put a lot more effort into innovation than before, both when it comes to products/destination development and when it comes to innovation. Innovation is still often used to describe technical innovations, but for the tourism industry it is often more about new innovative concepts.