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Focus on destination management: welcome to a parallel world

Climate change, AI and an increasingly demanding tourist market require new concepts and messages: the city of Vienna is now even promoting itself to its fans in the shape of pills. “Microdose Vienna“is the title of the campaign Vienna’s tourism minister is using to attract visitors from the US and UK to Austria’s mecca of art and culture. An ornate set of six brightly coloured capsules – supposedly enriched with the sweat of Lipizzan horses and dust from museums – promises the consumer a “unique Viennese experience. “ Distributed via lotteries and giveaways and belittled by some, the set has brought Vienna’s promoters widespread media attention and attracted many comments on social media.

Original ideas are always welcome for marketing destinations. However, to compete in the long term they must offer more than brightly coloured pills. In 2024 many large but also lesser-known tourism destinations are under major pressure to innovate and adapt. The challenges of intensifying climate change, the potential of AI, as well as steeply rising demand in many markets mean structures and marketing concepts must be rethought.

Panel at the ITB Berlin 2024 - The Future of Destinations

ITB Berlin 2024 - The Future of Destinations

The rediscovered desire of holidaymakers to travel since the Covid pandemic ended goes hand in hand with changing expectations and demands. Among many customer groups there is an increasing focus on sustainability, a digital infrastructure, and a desire for a personalised and authentic travel experience. “Tourists are generally becoming more demanding. Their holiday expectations are bigger than ever“says David Pavelko, Global Travel Business Development & Strategy at Google.

For destinations, this initially means more opportunities than risks, says Gilabert Jorge, a partner with the consultancy Deloitte. “Reasons for travelling have become more diverse. And because the cake itself has become much bigger, good opportunities exist for destinations that do their homework “, the expert says.

Whether for a mega city, provincial town, holiday beach or mountain region, in future marketing a destination will have to focus more on environmental and sustainability aspects. Climate change has now become a big topic in many countries. More and more tourists want a vacation that takes environmental and sustainability aspects into account. This trend can be observed not only in the West, but also in dynamically growing Asian markets. “In China more and more people are focusing on sustainability and the environment. That particularly applies to many young Chinese people. Destinations must react“, says Wolfgang Georg Arlt, CEO of the Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) and an expert on China.

The big booking platforms have a measure of control over this development that should not be underestimated. A company like sees itself as a driving force: “We see more and more people wanting sustainable travel. So our goal is to ensure we offer them more sustainable products“, says Danielle D’Silva, head of Sustainability at

The winners in this game are destinations such as Grosseto in Italy, which years ago began subscribing to a sustainable tourism strategy. This year, The European Commission voted this part of Tuscany and its eponymous city a European Green Pioneer of Smart Tourism. Sustainable farming, local products, regional added value, cycle tourism and a wide range of cultural attractions are geared to offering a green alternative to the resource consumerism of mass-market destinations. “For us, being at one with nature is not just an empty slogan. 60 per cent of our agricultural land alone is organically farmed“, says Maria Luisa Scorza, spokesperson for Grosseto’s tourism board.

In addition to rural regions, cities and conurbations must in future offer visitors more sustainable structures for a better-quality holiday and a more relaxing stay. Destinations that suffer from seasonal overcrowding, an overloaded infrastructure or water shortages are well advised to split up peak booking periods and take greater control of visitor flows. Carefully analysing tourist bookings and movements is a key part of this task. Modern data management can help to coordinate a destination’s supply and demand more efficiently. While this will not solve typical peak-season problems such as long queues for attractions or staff shortages in hotels and restaurants, it could significantly alleviate them.

The big tech companies are ready to provide the necessary digital infrastructure. AI in particular can help to better analyse capacity, resource and allocation issues in the travel industry. “AI will not change the nature of tourism, but it will help to improve tourism services and organise them more efficiently“, says Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister.

Some destinations have moved on from making promises and instead are already analysing their use of AI. Dublin offers an AI-generated tourism programme that responds to visitors’ individual needs. Barry Rogers, head of Dublin City Tourism, is convinced that AI in tourism will create completely new structures. “Our work focuses on sustainability and technology. We are among the first destinations to have partnered with Open AI. We are not doing this for its own sake. We want to work closely with local people and ensure all stakeholders benefit. Rogers sees AI having the potential to control visitor flows, manage off-season bookings and provide an AR experience. The capital of Ireland, which the European Commission voted European Capital of Smart Tourism 2024, is a pioneer here too and offers a historical AR tour.

Services such as these touch upon the possibilities the latest digital innovations offer, but are by no means the limit. Even if access to virtual worlds and experiences is probably no substitute for genuine tourism, in many places linking the two spheres seems to be possible and make sense. “We should see the metaverse as a parallel world capable of creating a virtual environment that connects with the real world, mirrors its complexity and generates new situations“ says Vanessa Borkmann, head of research at the FutureHotel Innovation Network, Fraunhofer IAO. Promoting destinations with pills will presumably then no longer be necessary.

Text: Martin Jahrfeld