The Great Potential of Arab Tourism Destinations

This month we published Tourism in the Arab World edited by Hamed Almuhrzi, Hafidh Alriyami and Noel Scott. In this post Hamed explains the inspiration behind the book and outlines its main themes.

The socioeconomic changes in a number of emerging economies, including Arab countries, have enabled many people from these countries to travel. In 2015, The United Nations World Tourism Organization reported that in 2014 this region was among the fastest growing regions in terms of travel total contribution to GDP (gross domestic product). Arab tourism destinations and markets hold great potential for the tourism business; however, it appears that we know little about them.

When I started my PhD study, one of the difficulties I faced was finding literature that discussed aspects of the tourism industry within Arab countries. There was a clear scarcity in research on planning, management and marketing of Arab destinations, or on understanding Arab tourists’ behaviours and dispositions. Through conversations with colleagues, it became clear that there is a need to establish and promote a dialogue on issues that concern the Arab tourism industry and bring tourism-related discussion to the attention of international tourism literature.

The existing tourism literature seems to be confused on many issues when it comes to discussing Arab tourism phenomena. Tourism in the Arab World introduces tourism researchers to such issues. Questions such as ‘What is the Arab World?’, or ‘Who is an Arab?’ are discussed and we address how this has further implications for tourism studies. In addition, the image of Arab destinations has been associated with various risk perceptions within international tourism literature – mainly the political crisis that many Arab destinations have been witnessing and the way they have been portrayed through the international media. This volume highlights this issue and provides recommendations for dealing with it for tourism marketing organisations and tourism researchers/practitioners. It also discusses whether the generalisation of risk perceptions is justified.

From an outsider’s perspective, Arab countries seem to be perceived similarly. However, various chapters within this volume emphasise that it is important to be careful of putting all Arab destinations in the same basket when it comes to issues such as tourism development, planning or structure of the industry. It was apparent throughout the discussion that Arab tourism destinations vary in their approaches. The discussion has pinpointed several concerns that tourism researchers and practitioners need to be aware of, such as the impact of Islam, culture and the political structure of each destination, and how these factors contribute to the development of tourism in each country.

While the book tries to stimulate discussion on various tourism issues that concern Arab destinations and market, it focuses more on business aspects of the tourism industry. Hence, there are four overall themes covered in this volume:

  • Tourism policy, organisation and planning
  • Tourism product development
  • Destination marketing
  • Arab consumer behaviour

Throughout these themes, tourism researchers and practitioners can appreciate differences and complications when it comes to dealing with emerging Arab tourism destinations, which in return provide more thoughts for discussion.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Tourism in the Middle East edited by Rami Farouk Daher.

Urban Destination Marketing: Ducks or Rabbits?

In February we are publishing John Heeley’s new book Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe. In this post, he explains how this book outlines the basis for a paradigm change in destination marketing.

Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary EuropeI studied the sociology of knowledge as a part of my undergraduate degree at the University of York (1969-72), and it ‘opened my eyes’. In particular, I was greatly influenced by an elegantly written essay on the philosophy of science written by one Thomas S. Kuhn. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn showed that the conceptual schema advanced by academics and practitioners so as to describe and otherwise explain aspects of the natural or social world were subject to periodic change. Change the paradigm and a new version of ‘the facts’ replaces the former one; in this way – to paraphrase Kuhn – what were ducks in the scientists’ minds in the old paradigm became rabbits in the new. So what mattered were not the facts per se, but how academic and practitioner communities interpreted them through the medium of the conceptual schemas Kuhn dubbed as paradigms.

Over forty years later (Christmas 2013) I found myself re-reading Kuhn’s seminal text, after which I used the notion of paradigm as the organising principle for my new book Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe: Uniting Theory and Practice. 21 in-depth interviews with destination marketing practitioners form the empirical heart of this book; in their own words (and warts and all), CEOs and senior executives of destination marketing organisations (DMOs) portray how on a daily basis they go about their marketing and visitor servicing operations. The DMO world depicted by the practitioners in the book is far removed from the one presented in the academic texts. The current ‘4 Ps paradigm’ has DMOs taking a differentiated product to market based on unique selling points (USPs) or competitive advantage, with the consumers and clients thus targeted responding more or less automaton-like to that marketing, and with the destinations reaping in the rewards in terms of enhanced business turnover, employment and other gains.

An example of a DMO advert.  By kind permission of Gothenburg & Co.
An example of a DMO advert. By kind permission of Gothenburg & Co.

As such, the ‘4 Ps’ paradigm is as simplistic as it is deterministic, offering a deeply flawed ‘what could be the case but isn’t’ portrayal of destination marketing. In all but a handful of cases, the ‘marketing the difference’ approaches so emblematic of the contemporary paradigm give way in practice to an undifferentiated and ultimately bland DMO ‘marketing of everything’. Moreover, in practice, destination marketing influences lie at the margins of consumer choice, and the resultant conversion levels are as minimal as the resultant turnover and employment gains are negligible.

In arguing along these lines in the new book, I am aware that I may well incur the wrath of academics and practitioners alike. Debunking an existing paradigm and having the temerity to outline a ‘what is the case’ replacement grounded in empirical evidence will doubtless invite feelings (maybe even charges) of arrogance, myopia or even deceit. I should add that authoring Urban Destination Marketing in Contemporary Europe has been difficult, inasmuch as I have had to belatedly own up to having ‘got things wrong’ during my long practitioner years, and to having consigned to the long grass puzzles, contradictions and anomalies associated with the ‘4 Ps paradigm’ which I ought really to have tackled head on.

On a purely personal level, however, I am satisfied that in writing the book I have at long last begun honestly and realistically to make sense of my long career as a destination marketer. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not others will see ‘marketing of everything’ where previously they saw ‘marketing the difference’. As so ably demonstrated by Kuhn, I take heart from the facts that ducks from time to time do morph into rabbits!

Inside City TourismIf you would like further information on the book please see our website. You might also like John’s previous book Inside City Tourism.