Understanding tourism goods and services can be deceiving. We can articulate that they have a tangible and intangible divergence. It is when we get into that thinking on higher and complex terms that it becomes blurred, complex and competitive. One can argue that a tourism’s tangible products cannot be consumed until the prospective tourist evaluates an intangible depiction or representation. No one can argue that more and more people are booking travel and tourism products using mobile technology 1. I am not certain that all tourist see the complex inter-relationships that exist between all sectors of our industry. Or do they even think about it. Yet, what about the students in my classes, those studying tourism. How should we envision this complexity?
It is an intricate web of connections. Some strong, some strained, some thin filaments that aren’t as apparent as others. Murky waters indeed. As we have discussed, value is not so easily deciphered, applied or understood. But it is a value chain of products that are aligned and transformed into an experience when packaged together. Validation of the wealth of that package, tangible and intangible value, occurs with use. If we have met and exceeded expectations developed before, during and after the trip and travel process, then we have delivered on each contact point during those moments of truths. And moments of truths profoundly affect the exchange process. If those connections are strong, those cogs in a wheel working in tandem, the industry will have a strong presence even in a highly competitive environment. They will stand out and be a first choice among a host of consumers.
Tourism is a communication industry.
We communicate to every stakeholder that has a vested interest in our products and services. (Moment of Epiphany: That moment when something hits you, whispers in your ear of understanding…just happened. More on that later)
Communication is a constant throughout the process, even if it happens behind the scenes or we don’t think it is even occurring. Information is exchanged and processed during those moments.
What we do during those moments of interaction can be vital for capturing interest, converting interest to purchases, and then use.
We need to create linkages among all those involved in the process.
Yes and no, and if they do, not always will tourist return.
Tourism, like any other industry, is a complex set of functions, processes, and activities. You can’t develop an attraction without some thought to why you want it in the first place. A feasibility study should be conducted of the area and thus, an audit of other similar attractions should be included. The carrying capacity of any destination, big or small, should be analyzed to know the resources you have and lack.
Resources are important, in their raw and refined form. What are they and how will they sustain your development today and tomorrow? How much do we need to develop to make an entity a viable point for visitation. Something just doesn’t grow up over night or decline and close. Disney started planning for Walt Disney World more than a decade before he even started to build.
Here is a short video about that process.
What if those resources, and tourist are scarce? What are you going to do?
Tourism by its nature is seasonal and perishable. There are peaks and valleys of movement. Our products have a 24-hour use, and if we don’t attract the numbers to our attractions, revenue is lost.
I ask my students to consider their own experience when answering questions in order for them to apply context to the problems I pose. As I stated before, I sifted through my Dad’s colored slides while I was home over Christmas break. Our 1967 trip to Montreal included the Upper State New York, and a place called North Pole, NY. There is a Christmas village aptly named after the North Pole. The park opened on November 1, 1949 and is still in existence today. That’s almost 70 years old.
But the North Pole isn’t in the bustling mecca of Orlando. It is nestled in small corner of the Adirondack’s with one way in, and one way out. If you are going to get there, you are going to have to drive. Limited accommodation with Lake Placid, NY 12 miles away. Accessibility, challenging but doable. But what makes it successful to stay in business for almost 70 years?
Good question. What variables do we use to judge a successful destination. That is another post for another time.
The Field Burger and Tap at Toftrees in State College, PA
Christmas break has wound down and this week it’s back to the classroom. Time to remove my email notification sign, akin to “gone fishing” and open it up for real work. Finish off projects for the semester and organize my educational environment.
I am always grateful for my time off. This year I was able to return to Happy Valley or Penn State and visit with friends.
How much the small town has grown since I departed in 2000. New buildings spring up every year, and I am amazed at their architecture. Yet, some old stomping grounds still exist.
The chilled wind of winter still barks across the expanse of dirt from Beaver Stadium down to Shortlidge road, and I wonder how ever I survived the frigid, hibernal winds without my current goose down coat. Trekking over the landscape takes on new meaning with all the new guide posts.
This semester I’m teaching Tourism Goods and Services and ask the students to pick a city in a state or country, even an event to investigate. I want them to make the connections between the infrastructure and human element. To see how everything should work in tangent. If one point is out of sync, then we fail.
I can’t give too much away too soon, utilizing the blog to aid them in their research.
In my convention and meeting planning class, I have them do a lengthy scenario based project. They are broken into teams, and given a type of meeting or event. Over the course of the 16 weeks, they are given information, and curve balls to develop the scenario. The purpose of the project is to develop their research, analytical, and problem-solving skills. It’s 500 points and I’ve had success with the project in the past as well as seen some students not take it seriously. Former students have commented on the project and agreed that it was a worthwhile exercise. Jenna Blandi-Jurgil was one of my first students in my meeting planning course that I created at Eastern Illinois University. It was one of the first renditions of the project that has since seen several adjustments. When asked about the project this past week, when she spoke to my current students, she had this to say:
“Everything I did in that notebook, I do now in my real job as an event planner.” ~Jenna Blandi-Jurgil
Today, I had one of the group leaders in asking questions. She was the only representative from their group for the meeting, and I had an opportunity to talk about their project and what she needs to do as their leader. Over the course of the conversation, I reminded her about the purpose, and talked about the ‘curve balls’ I gave them. I revisited the process of event planning and roles, responsibilities of an event planner. Event planning is all about project management from the inception of idea, through the planning and execution of the event or meeting, and finally the post event or meeting stages. That planning remains a central element of the whole process.
Jenna reinforced several key points that I constantly articulate in class. That if you are prepared, that your planning is thorough, the attendees won’t ‘see’ the interworking of a meeting or the flaws. They won’t see any problems. They can enjoy their experience and network without interference.
I love using examples when I try to explain concepts. The concept I wanted to talk about because I was aware of some potential difficulty with the group that would need to be addressed was leadership. I try to use simple visuals that would aid them. I asked the person if they played any sports. They told me that they played basketball and volleyball. Bingo. I could talk about volleyball.
I played volleyball since I was about four years old because my Mom was a former coach and referee. She actively took me to games and included me in practices. My earliest memory is of attending a game at my father’s place of work, his high school, and watching the game, chasing after the volleyballs, and listening to my Mom. My next memory is of the volleyball players that she coached coming to my hospital room and visiting when I had my adenoids removed. They brought me orange cream Popsicle to ease my sore throat. There was a camaraderie about them that I didn’t understand at an early age, but would later on. Something vital for success.
I really started playing seriously in seventh grade. I played through high school always earning a spot on the team and playing every match. I played club ball at Penn State (yes I tried out for the team, but I decided not to continue. That it wasn’t what I wanted.) I played Division I in Scotland, but hardly saw playing time due to certain politics and favoritism on the team. I can’t blame them, those ladies had been playing a long time. I was a backup but still gave it my heart. That is another point I stress with any project. Give 115% and you will succeed.
I was a back line specialist and setter. I was in part the quarterback and leader on the court, but also a team member to others that would lead. I wasn’t the captain, but still had a leadership role. There has to be a certain cohesion between group members. There has to be a dialogue on and off the court. There has to be an ease of conversation in order to achieve a goal.
In high school, we made it to regionals. Unfortunately, I had injured my ankle and wasn’t able to play. It was my senior year and played two sports. Regionals fell during softball season and I was their primary catcher. During a game, I suffered a high ankle sprain that ended the season for both volleyball and softball. But I still went to the regional game, and watched us make it through to the final match against our rival. I supported them from the bench, even begging the coach to tape up my ankle and let me play. Memories still linger of that year, and I recall the first match of the season against that same rival, and utilized it for explaining leadership.
We are all part of team, don’t get me wrong. But in such sports, there is more to consider. That year we were hitting on all cylinders, making a connection that could see us go all the way to State if injuries hadn’t plagued us near the end. We had this groove, this underlying current that others could recognize.
Yet, I’m drifting away from my story. Okay, first match. Now living in a small town, you know everyone, and more than likely play sports with and against friends from rival schools. I did. I had a friend on our rival volleyball team and decided to focus in on her. I was at service and she was straight down the line from me, with a rather tall hitter in front of her. I had pretty good accuracy and knew I could place it at her, or on the line. I waited, watching the other team and how they were lining up. Watching, observing, examining the other team and your alignment is key to knowing where to place that first shot. The front line of our opponent had set up to switch hitters, leaving my friend open for attack. That means all of their hitters were congregated in the center to switch as the ball sailed over the net. So first service, up and with some power, down the line at my friend. My friend’s receiving of the ball was off, and it sailed into the stands to her left. One point to us.
I went back to service and set up again. Again our opponents lined up to switch hitters, leaving my friend vulnerable. Second service like the first with even more power. Let me put it to you this way, and gloating somewhat, but I am aware of what my strength was back then. My service style was unpredictable. Hard and fast, or with a soft touch that had people scrambling to get to it. Yet, I could place it with some deftness at any point. If I could have utilized a jump serve, and with that accuracy–oh, boy…they would have been even more difficult. Second service went over the net and right at my friend. This time, with a slight curve to my palm, I was able to put a curve on it, and she misjudged the line. As it dropped rapidly, it curved to the left hard, drawing her off her position as well as the girl next to her. She had remained flat on her feet and stumbled into the other player. The ball ricocheted off her uneven arms, and sailed right into the third person on the back line, bouncing off her thigh onto the floor.
New tactics were called in by our rival coaches and I watched as they made adjustments. My own team knew me as I knew them. All along we made subtle adjustments to what I was doing. They knew what I was up to, my plan of attack. They knew I would hammer away at one member of the opposing team to get them to shift, to change tactics. My teammates knew to watch carefully and be prepared, especially our 6’4″ left hitter. Our opponents stopped shifting players as I served.
Yet, I wasn’t done even with them changing tactics. I had the confidence to continue my onslaught. A third time saw the ball skim the back line as an ace. And then it happened, then I saw what I had been hoping for. My friend’s teammates started shifting dramatically to help her. Well dramatically may be overstating the fact, but there was a clear adjustment to aid her. The front line pulled back to the attack line, abandoning the attempt to shift hitters. They returned to the classic formation, but with a left leaning. Moving to shield my friend for another attack. Beautiful holes opened up, ready to be exploited.
I remember relaxing before stepping to the line. I remember taking a deep breath, concentrating on what I wanted to do. I took my time, and focused. This time with the softest touch, enough to get the ball over the net, I dunked it between the net and their attack line, to the farthest right corner. I’m sure a collective gasp went up from the opposing teams spectators in the stands as the ball just dropped short, and their girls quickly scrambled to try to get the ball, to keep it in play, but their efforts weren’t enough. Imagine six players surging forward towards the ball, hungry to get at it, to try to save it, keep it in play, at least to get it back over the net, and failing. Crash, bam, nada. One more point.
We lost that match after a furious battle. Our only loss for the year. But those moments still resonate with me and helps me to explain leadership.
A leader knows when to direct, when to stand back and trust the people they work with. Knows when to take the lead and put their foot down to see things accomplished. Preparation is key not only with you and your team, but also knowing the field of play in which you operate. If you don’t, you are bound to fail. I knew my team. I knew when to take the lead, and direct. I knew when to pull back and trust the process. I knew when to be a team player, and let others take the reins. I didn’t chastise, but encouraged. I built confidence, not erode it away. I asked the right questions when they needed to be asked as my teammates did the same. There was a level of communication that successful teams possess that helps them reap rewards. Wasn’t always perfect, but no team is. Expectations were realistic, and goals, objectives obtainable.
And then knowing the field of play in which you operate. There was some dysfunction on my team, and I won’t go into the politics of it. We had an uphill battle throughout the year, and yet, we understood our ultimate goal and objectives. We were on the same page and adaptable to the current climate of play. We also knew how important it was to know our opponents. Their strengths, weakness, opportunity and threats. We knew, even with odds stacked against us, we had a chance. And we went for it, with the thought that nothing was or is impossible.
I knew those players. I knew one really well. I wasn’t intimidated by their presence, their past accomplishments (they were the best team in the state for a host of years and still are) or their ‘rhetoric’ on the court, and by their parents on the sidelines. I heard them, I listened, and I understood. I knew their goals and objectives, and what they wanted. But I had a job to accomplish and would adapt to their desires. I knew myself and remained true to my convictions. I read the signs they were projecting and exploited their egos. Some would argue, since with that loss, I was the one with the ego. Perhaps. But I knew I had to ask the questions that needed to be asked. Those questions were in my service and how I played, how I directed the team, and what I did on the court. And how I utilized the strengths and weakness of the other team, manipulating them against them. We beat them the second time around hands down, and earned a spot at regionals.
As Joe Paterno, who I admire, and not just because I’m a Penn State alum, but more, stated:
“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.”
Sometimes the best strategy for a leader is to do nothing at all. Continue with your goal and objectives, and let the opponent fail at their own weaknesses. This is readily apparent on the field of sports. Trust yourself. Trust the process. You focus on the fundamentals, give 115% heart in their execution, and more than likely will triumph in the end. You may not succeed at first, and I know, I have been in that position many times and must remember that a dose of failure is also a dose of success. You learn about yourself and others. You learn what you need to do for the next opportunity both as a leader and team member.
And so I asked my student, what did you take away from this story. After teasing them with several questions, because it was probably too early on a Friday morning for the both of us, they came to the point I was trying to make. Preparation. Know yourself, know what you are capable of as well as your team members. Make lists and other aids to help you accomplish your goal. Know the field of play in which you operate, not just the class, and what the professor wants you to deliver, but also, be cognizant of your functionality as a team–your team, your playing field. If you are going to lead, set the standard by which you will operate, and stick to those goals. Be adaptable to the external forces swirling around you, and listen to those voices, observe how things shift, and change with the external forces acting against your desires and all those that are on that field of play. Try to understand everyone’s internal conflict and make strategies that are both achievable and obtainable for everyone. It is about moving forward with realistic success.
And remember how to act on that field. How your actions reverberate around each player. Act with a sense of morality and civility. Don’t just assume, but articulate. Walk the walk, and talk the talk. Respect isn’t blindly given, it is earned and can be easily squandered away. Which led in part to a talk about core values.
Border (s) exist on a map, in different geographic markings, and man-made signs to denote a boundary. In tourism, boundaries are blurred more today than 100 years ago. As tourist we are constrained only by the regulations to move from one place to another. Most countries have some form of visa requirements, and yet, as an educator, I teach that boundaries or borders are not insurmountable. Anything is possible.
Yet, the question of migration is constant note of debate in today’s society. That borders should be freely open and allow for that migration. We try to have a reasonable discourse in my classes. But more so drill down to the core reasons, the SWOT of migration, of tourism in a greater context.
I have an intercultural competency or as I prefer a cultural intelligence assignment in most of my classes. I tweak it for the different levels. In my intro class, I begin to open the windows and doors to the vast global world, allow the students to peer out into the broader spectrum, and start the dialogue. Most of the students, if not all, have a passport and have utilized it. Some of have not. But even with their experience, the question remains how much do they really know about the cultures in which they interact with?
At the beginning of the semester, the first couple of weeks, I try to articulate that they are, for their current position on the life cycle, at a limited awareness of the dynamic and complex relationship of the world. Tourism fosters a movement from a limited awareness to a greater awareness, even if it is traveling from the middle of no where into a bigger, and broader context like a city. Diversity of the population is far more substantial in the city than in the middle of no where. They are exposed to more cultural norms.
So borders aren’t just lines on a map, marking the boundary between countries. Borders can be, may be that demarcation line of change. Where we step off into something more, and become something more. That precipice that requires of leap of faith to overcome the fear of doing something. Of testing yourself and expanding your understanding. To shedding the shackles of a myopic viewpoint, and opening up oneself to knowledge. Ignorance breeds fear. Knowledge gains an understanding.
Tourism is a vehicle for change. And yet there is always another side of the argument. The movement of people has a negative impact on infrastructures. We can’t have this debate without understanding the implications of acculturation, tourism area life cycle or TALC, carrying capacity, spatial segregation, and cultural homogenization. Planning is key.
Host communities must question the impact on their local identities and quality of life. Resources and the sustainability of a destination must be examined in order to maintain a balance. If those resources diminish beyond what the area can handle, then the destination has reached its carrying capacity. You will see a negative impact on the three environments – natural/man-made, economic, and socio-cultural. Basic needs will not be met, and people will suffer. The infrastructure will begin to deteriorate and impact will be exponential, until a point has been reach, when movement lessens and an area can begin to recover. If saturation has been reached, or even exceeded for any length of time, resources will disappear completely. Movement will stop, economic vitality will diminish and the destination will enter a stagnation or decline on the tourism area life cycle or TALC.
Border (s) have so many meanings in tourism, and I have only hinted on a host of thoughts. The final comment, if a destination is to continue, hard questions need to be asked.
Fridays will be a busy time for me this year as I utilize the Learning Glass technology. Today, I was there an hour, and did three short videos. As there is with all technology, there is, for a better word, a learning curve. The first time I wore a bright color, and you couldn’t see the words. This time I wore black, and hopefully will be a better wardrobe for the filming.
I haven’t got the energy level yet for this format as I do in the classroom. It’s awkward for me because I would rather be behind the camera than in front. And I would rather be in my own home than have to record in front of others. I told the students to laugh along with me…
So my tourism class has finished up for the most part motivation and I am sitting here reflecting on what we talked about. I tried to convey to the students that they have to develop their own understanding of the functions of motivations for their own career aspirations. To apply what we learn to their own passions, and how this will aid in becoming a better overall manager. Yet, I continue to ponder the questions in my own life as a tourism researcher, as a tourism educator.
Why do people travel? Why do we feel a kindred spirit with certain destinations? Why are we tugged towards something that we have never really been before, and feel at home? Why do we have a physiological, psychological, and cognitive response to a destination? Finding out those answers is gold for a destination marketing organization. If…