Tourism is a key sector of the economy and for private and public sector operators, developers and investors it offers both opportunities and challenges.
New developments require careful market research and considered strategic planning. The viability of new leisure and tourism projects must be rigorously tested and there has to be a detailed appreciation of market conditions and of the planning and development contexts for all development. The constant theme that characterises the sector is the need to attract customers, maximise repeat visits and purchases and maintain or improve competitive positions.
Unfortunately, strategic planning for visitor attractions often has rather disjointed beginnings and issues of “secondary” importance, such as access, buildings, design and detailed planning frequently dominate discussion. However, the fundamental questions to be addressed are: “How will this visitor attraction work as a consumer proposition?” and “How can it be branded for success?”
Creating a visitor attraction that is sufficiently strong, differentiated and marketable is, in the long term, even more important than the key “front-end” questions of funding, investors and capital needs. It is not investors and public funding authorities who sustain a profitable operation but consumers. The return on investment depends ultimately not on buildings, but on individuals, seeking a visitor attraction experience.
A visitor attraction can be defined as “somewhere worth leaving home for”, and this is as relevant to a single museum or cathedral as it is to a tourist area or town. People make visitor attractions – the people who conceive them, the people who develop them, the people who manage them, but above all the people who visit.
In a successful attraction, the product on offer is the experience itself. Committing time to that experience must be rewarding for the individual; spending money on that experience must be worthwhile. In the experience economy, visitor attractions must constantly "reinvent" themselves to encourage repeat visits and survive. This economy of experience is about quality, service and choice – it is not about size. The successful product is about expectations, experiences and memories for individual consumers.
Ultimately, it is people that make visitor attractions successful, not buildings and infrastructure. Visitor attraction developers, owners and managers must always hold the consumer proposition and the visitor attraction brand firmly in mind when undertaking strategic planning.