Tourism has been one of the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19. Its services had to come to a complete standstill during 2020 and had to wait longer than the rest of the economic sectors to be reactivated. Experts point out that 2022 will be the first year in which we can really start to talk about normality, albeit in a new context that is very different from the pre-Pandemic era.
The sector has been reconfigured in the same way that its communication has been reconfigured. This is the main conclusion reached by communication experts in the sector at the 2nd Dircom Forum on Tourism and Communication, organised by the Dircom Association this week in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The president of the Las Palmas Federation of Hotel and Tourism Businessmen, José María Mañaricúa, considers that the sector “is not yet at pre-pandemic levels and it is difficult to communicate what the sector is suffering. We are bad communicators and the environment does not help”.
Marta Cantero, regional content director of Cadena SER in the Canary Islands, also took on board this sectoral self-criticism. “I think we communicate badly. The media do not explain well either. We don’t talk about the sector because we are not specialists. We always approach it from an economic point of view and we don’t talk about the real benefits of tourism,” she said.
The Director of Communications at the World Tourism Organisation believes that one of the shortcomings of media communication in the sector has to do with “the dictatorship of the seasons”. “It cannot be,” he says, “that tourism only appears in the media in outbound or return operations or summer pieces. We have to communicate other issues, to change the image. The sector is the victim of superficial treatment“.
Why does communication fail in this sector? Most experts agree on the need to unify all messages. Risi considers that “we are in a very dispersed sector, which does not speak with a single voice and has different and sometimes contradictory interests”. He assures that with “80% of the tourism muscle being SMEs, it is difficult to articulate the voice of tourism”. The SER journalist also affirms that in the sector “there are few voices and a refusal to listen to others. I feel that the sector, especially hoteliers, are very defensive”.
These opinions are refuted by José María Mañaricúa, who points out that this articulate voice is already exercised by the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Accommodation. “Another thing”, he points out, “is that there are large lobbies that are interested in de-virtualising their own voice”.
Communication beyond the product and the client
Experts also agree that communication strategies must pay more attention to new fields and stakeholders. One group that has gained significant importance is the resident.
Desiderio Gutiérrez Taño, member of the Cajacanarias Ashotel-ULL Tourism Chair, argues that this stakeholder group “is only paid attention to when there is a problem. However, it is one of the publics that we must pay attention to for the sustainable peaceful coexistence of the environment in which the activity takes place”. “We must redefine the role of the resident in the construction of the tourist experience“, she concludes. In this sense, Marta Cantero believes that “we have always been concerned with measuring the satisfaction of the tourist, but never that of the resident”.
The participants in the forum also agree on the need to communicate beyond the product. Desiderio Gutiérrez says that “traditionally tourism has focused on the product without coordination between different areas” and this is now changing; and Marcelo Risi believes that subjects such as, for example, sustainability should be integrated into the messages.
The Forum concluded with a talk between the Canary Islands Minister of Tourism, Yaiza Castilla Herrera, and the President of Dircom, Miguel López Quesada, in which the political representative defended the need for greater pedagogy in the field of communication with a clear roadmap. “We must learn to communicate in the sector,” she concluded.