International expert: Community alignment, storytelling critical to Baton Rouge’s tourism future

    Baton Rouge’s tourism industry needs to do a better job of communicating its value, according to an international industry expert who spoke today at Visit Baton Rouge’s Travel & Tourism Forum.

    Specifically, local tourism officials must ensure strategic alignment with civic leaders and elected officials, said Don Welsh, president & CEO of Destinations International, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that manages 600 destinations in 13 countries across the world. 

    “There’s never been a more competitive time to keep funding for destination organizations,” said Welsh, who shared key insights from his company’s 2019 Destination Next Futures Study, which analyzed results from 521 participating destinations spanning 55 different countries.

    In a nutshell, there are three transformational opportunities for tourism bureaus like Baton Rouge, which drew in 11.3 million visitors last year. They include: destination stewardship, community alignment and digital conversion—which involves connecting with visitors on mobile devices to drive more real-time sales in-destination.

    Among other significant findings: Tourists are increasingly seeking authentic travel experiences; harvesting data and business analytics is becoming more important for destination organizations; and customers want highly curated and customized destination content.

    It’s coming at a time when multiple challenges loom over the industry, he said, noting recent examples of an “overtourism” mindset in Barcelona, Spain, and Venice, Italy, with elected leaders enacting legislation designed to curb the number of visitors coming into their cities. Locally, challenges include natural disasters, homelessness and short-term rentals like Airbnb.

    With tourism employing some 9% of the total U.S. working population, Welsh said it’s necessary to solve these issues.

    “[Destination organizations] should be spoken about as a common good, the same way you would talk about hospitals or other organizations that earn the respect of lawmakers,” Welsh said. “We have been horrible storytellers about what we do as an industry. Now, we’re evangelists.” 

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