Future Challenges in Tourism Policies, Mexico, 26-28 November 1996


The Conference, organised by the OECD Tourism Committee and the Ministry of Tourism of Mexico was opened by Mrs. Silvia Hernandez, Minister of Tourism (Mexico) and by Mr.Erich Musyl (Austria), Chairman of the OECD Tourism Committee.

The purpose of the meeting was to examine the role of national tourism administrations (NTAs) in defining tourism policy in order to improve their effectiveness and to provide an opportunity for identifying actions that OECD countries could take to help face future challenges in the next century.

Tourism faces serious challenges. New tourist destinations are leading to fiercer competition among countries. Increasing environmental concerns are changing consumer behaviour and oblige both the industry and governments to change their policies. Rapid changes in the tourism environment are due to liberalisation and the rapid evolution of information technologies. At the same time, tourism policy makers in Member countries are under growing pressure to do more with less.

In most OECD economies, the tourism industry constitutes an important source of income and employment. Tourism is a very dynamic industry with great potential for further development. However, in OECD countries, the tourism growth rate is progressively declining, and this trend may continue over the longer term.

Already, national tourism administrations are making structural changes, forming new partnerships between the public and private sectors. To ensure continued tourism growth and to preserve tourism assets in the long run, the role of national tourism administrations in defining tourism policy should be properly identified in order to improe their effectiveness.

This panel stressed the importance of competition and deregulation, notably in the airline industry, for improving the competitiveness of tourism. It showed that continuing growth in tourism will benefit especially to niche markets with important variations among countries and regions. The supply of appropriate infrastructure, especially in transport, and co-ordination at regional and local level will play an important role in maintaining sustainable development of tourism over the long term.

National tourism administrations are being called upon to play an active role in the sustainable development of tourism, by promoting adequate legislation, integral planning, development and diffusion of new technologies and effective management and agreement mechanisms. Sustainable development should reconcile economic demands, rational utilisation of biodiversity and preservation of cultural integrity. A critical task would be to set universally agreed criteria for a sustainable approach. Other fundamental matters dealt with were education and environmental impact, which should be measured not only during the feasibility study but also on a regular basis after the project is operational.

Future tourism policies should pay more attention to SMEs, establishing financial incentives and deregulation mechanisms that can promote their competitiveness. In addition, it is necessary to strengthen the role of NTAs in developing education and training policies, so that there is a link between the supply and demand of human resources. A Hungarian presentation focused on incentives to promote tourist business (i.e. reasonable tax burdens, assisting market entry), which encourage substantial growth in supply and shrinkage of the black economy. Niche market strategies of SMEs and their preparation for the challenge of new information technology were discussed. Tourism authorities should aim at expanding tourism development opportunities, particularly for SMEs.

It was observed that in future NTAs would shift from intervention via promotion to co-ordination, thereby ultimately leading to decentralisation and development of partnerships. NTAs should continue to play an important role, especially in areas of market failure, such the country's image and the supply of infrastructure. NTAs do not follow a standard model, although Canada's experience has shown that public and private partnerships may be an effective means to address future challenges. The point was made that a reliable method of measuring the effectiveness of spending on tourism promotion would provide NTAs with an additional tool for obtaining political support and, consequently, increased funding. Future tourism policy requires closer international co-operation, especially in terms of liberalisation, sustainable development, consumer protection and joint marketing through international organisations, economic blocs, and multi-country and bilateral relations.

There is some convergence of views among OECD countries regarding core objectives of tourism policy. It should aim primarily at the development of sustainable tourism to the benefit of all citizens, regions and tourism industries. It should increase tourism development opportunities (job creation, export growth and revenue generation), particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and should promote research and development, notably in the areas of statistics.

Most OECD economies actively promote their country's image. However, there is an ongoing debate regarding the rationale for this. In particular, two important areas require study: how should the effectiveness of public expenditures be measured and to what extent should the private sector be involved in the funding of such activities.

Governments need to support economic policy decision making by ensuring accurate measurement of the travel and tourism industry. Analytical and statistical tools, such as the OECD Guidelines for the Tourism Satellite Account should be developed further. Growth of tourism cannot be taken for granted. Further research should be undertaken to refine the position of OECD countries vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

The private sector is playing a much more active role in defining policy, particularly for marketing. One challenge is to increase the implication of the private sector, including SMEs, in policy-oriented activities. Very often, appropriate mechanisms and structures need to be developed. Areas concerned include liberalisation, sustainable development, consumer protection, regional marketing activities, research and statistics.

A synthesis of the Conference proceedings is available (in English and Spanish) on request from the Secretariat.