City tourism on the driver’s seat in Europe

Does it pay for a mega city with tourism magnets (natural or man-made) drawing visitors from distant corners of the world to indulge in its own promotion and marketing as distinctive from a cumulative national push? This has typically been a trend which sweeps across the major European cities and according to the findings of the European Cities Marketing Benchmarking Report (ECM 2012-13), this trend has strengthened significantly in the last one decade. For European nations, the economic climate since the beginning of this millennium may not have been that conducive with recessionary trends probably affecting them more than any other global pocket, but this has not altered their city-based tourism focus.

The 9th edition of ECM report clearly underlined that city tourism remains the driving force for the entire tourism business in the continent. “Overall performance in 2012 still lends weight to the view that city tourism is the dominant and most dynamic aspect of European tourism. The report mentions that in 2012, the total number of bednights in European cities increased by 2.8% compared to 2011. As in 2011 and 2010, international bednights were the driving force of this increase with a growth rate more than double that of domestic bednights,” says Dieter Hardt- Stremayr, President, European Cities Marketing.

According to the report; Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom continued to enjoy their status as the top three source markets for 2012 European city tourism, followed by France and Italy. All top source markets showed an increase in bednights relative to 2011 with the exception of Italy and Spain. BRIC countries, especially Russia and China, are still emerging as important source markets with lots of potential for the future and stood out again with double-digit bednight growth rates compared to 2011,proving that BRIC markets continue to be tourist sources to be watched closely.

The report further highlights that of the cities covered in the study, the majority are experiencing a positive start to the year, as a continuation of those recorded last year. An ECM survey held in April 2013 shows that 66% of city tourism professionals expect bed nights in 2013 to increase, compared to the year 2012. Growth is expected to come from the leisure segment and the international markets. According to these experts, the economic environment of a destination is the most important factor affecting tourism performance. Hosting events and the growth of BRIC source markets were also identified as major factors that will affect 2013 tourism in European cities.

The 9th edition of the Benchmarking Report has broadly covered 113 cities in the continent with a distinct focus on the strategic and competitive position of European city destinations. The primary idea behind the report is to provide destination managers information pertaining to important trends and recent developments in the prominent city tourism hubs in the continent. It also offers a much wider ambit in terms of city destination’s market share in bednights over a period between 2008-2012. On an overall basis, trends of nine key source markets have also been analysed in the report which has been compiled by MODUL, University in Vienna.

Meanwhile in the list of prominent European cities driving the continental tourism business, London, Paris and Berlin continues to lead the pack in terms of volume of bed nights in 2012 (refer to the chart). The only surprise change in the top five list is the entry of Barcelona which has snatched the fifth spot from Madrid. The report further mentions key cities in Germany as well as other selective hubs like Barcelona, Rome and Vienna which have outperformed their benchmark. Berlin recorded highest percentage growth of 8.8 percent whereas London bednight market grew by 1 percent.

“City tourism is characterised by a far more international guest mix share than tourism on a national level,” the report clearly earmarked. And it explained the assumption of the growing internationalisation of European tourism magnets by categorising cities under different broader categories like ‘boom town cities,’ ‘ghost town cities,’ ‘host town cities,’ etc. Commenting on the results, Ignasi de Delas, President, ECM said, “ These results are fascinating and provide crucial insights into European city competitiveness and competitor sets. All the European cities have been successful but they appear to be emerging with their own personality and their own set of opportunities and challenges.” Tom Jenkins, a senior official with the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) added, “ London benchmarked against Berlin and the performance of cities generally is staggering. Our tour operators will be eager to use this report to align their product to what looks like a significant shift in the travel industry.”

Meanwhile, following the success of ECM study in Europe, now UNWTO has also pitched in to undertake a similar exercise covering more destinations around the globe. Around the end of 2014; UNWTO, ECM and MODUL University Vienna agreed to develop a common framework and methodology to compare city tourism data on a global level. As part of the UNWTO Cities Project, and in the framework of the Istanbul Declaration (2012) on City Tourism, UNWTO, ECM and MODUL University have joined forces to promote the sustainable development of city tourism as a driver of economic growth.

The three partners will provide specific expertise to this common goal, which is key to improve planning and decision making by private and public tourism stakeholders in cities worldwide. The project will count on essential research, insights and tools to benchmark city performance developed by European Cities Marketing’s as well as on TourMIS, a platform for tourism associations to exchange data on overnight stays, hotel capacities and occupancy rate hosted by the MODUL University Vienna.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, welcomed this new partnership in these words, “City tourism has become a strategic element in urban planning and management; thanks to this agreement with ECM and MODUL University Vienna, we will be able to work on systematic data collection on city tourism all over the world.”

As per the agreement, ECM, MODUL University Vienna and UNWTO will aim to regularly publish a Global City Tourism Benchmarking Report. The partners will furthermore form a group of international experts to observe and comment on the progress of the project and provide guidelines on how to further integrate indicators on the economic, environmental and social impact of tourism into the current system of city tourism measurement.

By TF Bureau

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