Interview with Professor Heinz-Dieter Quack
Professor Quack, as a researcher and a consultant you have spent more than 25 years observing the development of tourism markets and the situation in the travel industry in general. What are the major changes that have taken place during this time? And what are the reasons behind them?
There is no doubt that the most revolutionary development has been digitalisation. This is by no means a new trend, but an enormous technological development of recent years that has resulted in a significant readjustment on the travel market. For example I only need mention sales as well as the increasing importance of the business sector “Tours & Activities”. Furthermore, from the customers’ perspective, digital technologies certainly make it possible to personalise the appeal and the travel experience itself.
And on closer inspection: How have these trends changed the bus travel sector?
Bus travel is a very stable sector, and its potential is now being maximised through new technological trends. In the past bus travel was overshadowed to a great extent by traditional flight package tours, and booking possibilities through the relevant sales channels were only very rudimentary. This is now changing. The personalisation of the tourist offer resulting from digitalisation will enable coach tour operators to reach new target groups. In the future it might even be possible to configure groups of travellers so that there is greater compatibility among them. However, this also means that the operators of bus tours will have to move with the times. As well as traditional sales channels there is also the digital form, which will to a large extent overtake the traditional method in all the various parts of the market.
Currently the need to protect the environment and the climate is at the heart of almost all public discussions. Now more than ever we must also consider tourism in this context. Can we still travel with a clear conscience? And if we can, then how?
It is remarkable to see the levels of commitment that the tourism sector itself is bringing to this debate. In the public sphere other economic sectors are much more culpable. The energy industry, automobile industry and logistics and, of course, industry as a whole, produce far more CO2 than tourism does.
There are many other facets to sustainability than just emissions of pollutants. Tourism makes a very positive contribution to meeting such sustainability criteria as education, innovativeness and world peace. The tourism industry can emerge from the ongoing debate in a stronger position if it is able to embrace the subject of sustainability in a positive way. There are many good reasons for this.
In the tourism sector destinations run the risk of being the victims of their own success. Cities sometimes attract so many tourists that there is a danger that this adversely affects their attractiveness. Can anything be done to rectify this situation? And is such action needed anyway?
To me it is important that the interests of tourists are also in harmony with those of local inhabitants. There are no end of possibilities for directing the flow of visitors, from levies and taxes to encouraging them to travel at times when there is more capacity. We should not forget that, as a rule, we are talking about local problems that can also be solved at a local level. Our current investigations at the Federal Tourism Competence Centre clearly reveal that, although tourism development in Germany may display isolated and seasonal congestion, this is not a fundamental phenomenon. Here the critical factor in determining success is not so much the actual number of travellers in one place at a particular time, but rather the question of whether and to what extent a consensus exists among the inhabitants and stakeholders at a destination regarding the desired tourism development at that destination.
Have buses sometimes been regarded as symbolic of so-called over-tourism? Is this justified? As an industry, how can we rectify this image?
There is no firm definition of what constitutes “over-tourism”, which in any case has many different facets. At the present time I do not think that buses are a dominant symbol of this phenomenon. Other forms of transport seem to me to be much more deserving of criticism at the present time. However, a word of warning: in this respect each provider, in attempting to defend themselves, should not point the finger at other forms of transport. In my opinion, in principle it would be much more effective to emphasise the eminently sustainable effects of travel.
With the establishment of the Federal Tourism Competence Centre and the initial steps towards a national tourism strategy the German government has demonstrated its commitment to the travel industry. In an increasingly post-industrial society this is also certainly an economic necessity. What are the potential benefits for employment and growth? And how can bus operators share in this?
The Federal Tourism Competence Centre is promoting a dialogue between politics and practice and in particular, as part of this process, it is making valuable expertise available to small and medium-sized businesses. We are working closely together with the bdo. We observe that the different tourism segments can learn a great deal from one another. In our work we endeavour to bring the many different forces in the German tourism industry closer together and in this way to encourage politicians to listen to them more.
Politicians have recognised the relevance of tourism as an economic factor and are always open to discussion. The promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises is a central task here as well.. We communicate with the industry by means of newsletters and surveys. And we are pleased when bus operators make use of the services that we offer at www.kompetenzzentrum-tourismus.de.
Taking a look into the future, what are the general trends that are emerging in the tourism industry? And how do you assess these developments with regard to the bus sector?
The digital transformation has only just begun. At present, we can only guess which providers and which technologies will provide access to customers tomorrow. One thing is certain: mobile technologies and a much more personalised offer will play a central role in this process. It is good to know that, in many cases, participating in new digital business models is not rocket science and that a sense of curiosity and the courage to effect changes are basically what are needed. It is worth displaying this courage, because the opportunities outweigh the risks.