Travel agencies can position themselves to take advantage of
Latin America's growing market for alternative
tourism (turismo alternativo). The Internet has proven to
be an effective tool for both research and promotion. Yet given
the growth of the Internet, agencies may feel threatened by
competition and must develop specialized skills to survive.
Relations with travel agencies has been one of the unexpected
high points of my work. Good friends and colleagues Marjorie
Gutierrez of Mundo Ogima and Lillia
Childs Guissen of Contraste Tours started their own agencies.
Later they will share details about their work and lessons learned
that will be of help to other agents as well as local operators.
When tourism professionals talk about "alternative
tourism" this simply means tourism that is not traditional.
This is a vague definition at best. After all, tourism is not
static but a dynamic sector.
There are other forms of "turismo alternativo" as well --
for example, gastronomical tourism or archaeological tourism.
There is as great a diversity of tourism activities as there
are tourists with special interests.
In order to be more precise, let's take a close look at two
specialized fields -- adventure travel and ecotourism.
For good reason ecotourism and adventure
tourism have different standards or criteria.
Adventure tourism involves a degree of danger and requires
specialized skills. Examples include mountain climbing, hang
gliding and mountain biking. Ecotourism activities assist conservation
efforts and include the local community.
Ecotourism guidelines focus on carrying capacity and ethical
considerations. Additional details are found on our definitions
Adventure tourism requires strict guidelines to insure safety.
These standards may be less "eco" because the focus is on bringing
the customer back for a return trip. Agents need to make sure
that companies are staffed by trained professionals and that
the company has adequate insurance.
Both ecotourism and adventure tourism standards are based
not in get-rich-quick megatourism projects but upon the principle
of long-term sustainability.
Yet in terms of public diffusion of either, Mexico is literally
off the map. At the Planeta.com stand at Expo Aventura I have
on display a number of maps of national parks throughout Latin
America, available in specialty stores as well as the Gone Tomorrow
website -- http://www.gonetomorrow.com.
Yet there's not one map that's publically available about Mexico's
As Dalila Calvario of Aventura
Vertical magazine said at a recent Adventure Tourism conference
held in Real
"It's sad that the tourism offices produce brochures and
guides to places people really can't visit in Mexico, and
the places where people can visit, we don't have brochures
Here's the good news. Times are changing.
It's a new millennium. Mexico holds its national elections tomorrow
(July 2, 2000) in which the outcome is uncertain.
Likewise, in the tourism industry, we must recognize that
the rules have not been fully established. That said, let's
take a close look at the changing tourism market.
What kinds of trips are travelers taking?
travelers are requesting a mix of FIT travel -- "get me from
here to there and let me decide what to do in between" and Package
Tours which plan the entire journey. Clients want the skeleton
of the trip planned out but they also want the freedom to choose
among the alternatives present at the destination.
Do travelers choose destinations or activities?
While tourists traditionally look for destinations rather than
products or activities, some are seeking out places to visit
as a bird watcher or mountain climber. No traveler is a 100%
ecotourist. Those fictional beings only exist in market studies.
But once in Oaxaca or Durango, travelers with green interests
will seek out those providers offering those services.
Where do travelers get their information?
The Internet. Tourism kiosks are woefully unprepared in offering
visitors information accessible online. True, kiosks play a
vital role. They can and should incorporate cybercafe components
into their operations.
Why is the Internet so popular? Take your choice. There are
a number of reasons.
1) Entertainment -- much of the information is simply fun
2) Business -- like the phone and fax, it's becoming an indispensable
business tool 3) Diversity -- there is something for everyone
4) Interactive -- the Internet is by the far the most democratic
communications medium 5) Personal -- users can use the Web to
stay in touch with family and friends
Travelers are going to the Web and savvy writers are catering
to this specific market. A great example is Michael Shapiro's
Internet Planner that describes in detail how to use the
Web to book your perfect trip.
Agencies are also going to the Web. Two months ago Travel
Weekly published an excellent article, Diary of a Web User
that provides a day-by-day account of how agencies research
practical information via the World Wide Web.
Unfortunately, much web design is focused on pleasing the
Internet designers, not the end users. This is why so many sites
are ineffective. Here are some clues to spot deadbeat sites:
What makes good design?