The world-famous Ha’ikū Stairs along Oahu’s Ko’olau mountain range, known as the “Stairway to Heaven,” has been closed to the public since 1991, but you wouldn’t know that from Instagram.
And despite the $250,000 a year the Honolulu Board of Water Supply spends to keep people out of the area, roughly 4,000 hikers still access the stairs annually, to the detriment of the local residents, whose properties are trespassed, and to the board’s customers, who are footing the bill.
It’s one of many examples of how tourism promotion, which has historically marketed Hawaii as a playground full of escapist pleasures, has backfired. Now, Hawaii must course correct. Seeking more responsible guests, the industry is looking for a bit of restraint — and deference.
A promotional video titled “Hawaii Travel Tips: Culture” is helping to get the word out.
“We have a custom here in Hawaii, of asking permission to enter a place. It really is wise to do so because you’re not assuming,” Sabra Kauka, a cultural practitioner, says in the video.
Asking permission echoes a protocol in many Hawaiian rituals wherein a guest would present a chant petitioning for welcome and await a response granting entry in an exchange that establishes pono (righteous) behavior and mutual reciprocity.
The video is one in a series of short videos under the Kuleana Campaign, produced by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB).
Released last summer, it aims to educate Hawaii’s visitors on appropriate cultural etiquette.
It’ll likely be the first time visitors will have heard about the custom, and the first time they’ve been asked to consider their behavior while vacationing in Hawaii.
But as over tourism challenges the islands’ visitor capacity, the need to limit tourism’s footprint is an urgent one requiring creative solutions.
A pledge, a signature
The islands’ fragile ecosystems are buckling under the sheer volume of visitors, which hit a record-breaking 10.4 million in 2019. Consider that influx for a place with a local population of 1.4 million, much less a chain of islands with finite resources.
Honolulu City Council member Kymberly Pine, who chairs the city’s Business, Economic Development & Tourism Committee, said such numbers were not projected for several more years. Now, as arrivals are only forecasted to continue growing, government officials and tourism marketing must respond — beginning with bad behavior.
For example, incidents of eager hikers ducking under police tape to enter closed trails are so common that legislation was introduced last year to have hikers who knowingly trespass pay fines of up to $1,000. The legislation also covers search and rescue costs for public safety agents who come to the rescue of rogue trekkers.
Visual cues like metal guardrails and warning signs haven’t been enough to dissuade visitors and lackadaisical vacationers from breaking the rules, but maybe a hefty fine will do the trick.
The bill was introduced by State Senator Mike Gabbard as a deterrent, but others aren’t confident that deterrence methods are as effective as education.
“Quite frankly, if we say, ‘Don’t jump over the fence,’ they’re going to do it anyway,” says Jay Talwar, HVCB chief marketing officer behind the Kuleana Campaign.
Talwar believes raising awareness of the “whys” behind appropriate behavior could better influence an attitude shift. He thinks enlightenment — not reproach — is the path to seeing better behavior.
Councilmember Pine agrees. Last September, she introduced the first in a series of bills in her legislative package “Keep Hawaii Hawaii.” She hopes the initiative, the “Promise to Our Keiki Pledge,” will promote environmentally responsible and culturally sensitive visitor behaviors.
The bill, which passed the committee in January, asks visitors to sign a pledge upon arrival, committing themselves to protecting and respecting endangered animals, indigenous flora and sacred sites.
The pledge would not have legal consequences (unless, of course, a visitor does something illegal, like pick up a sea turtle for an Instagram shot), but Pine believes it could go a long way towards more mindful travel.
Pine is optimistic about the pledge, hoping it will serve as a necessary reminder to visitors to leave things as they found them, if not better.
Marketing efforts clash with reality
The environmental impacts of tourism have been a central concern in Hawaii for decades. In 2000, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the HTA to force the agency into performing an environmental assessment of its marketing campaigns, just as any government agency that spends state funds does, the club contended.
At the time, the number of tourists visiting was just shy of seven million. The suit, which was eventually thrown out by the Hawaii Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision, hoped to force the agency to consider how aggressively the state be marketed.
Now, 20 years later, the HTA can no longer avoid the question.
Though the HTA has maintained the same mission since its founding in 1998, “to strategically manage Hawaii tourism in a sustainable manner,” how it did so in the past — and where the pressure was applied between visitor experience, resident satisfaction and environmental sustainability — has varied.
In its 2020-2025 strategic plan, the HTA will put significantly more emphasis on addressing tourism’s impacts, Marisa Yamane, HTA’s director of communications and public relations, shared with CNN Travel.
How the agency will manage to regulate its own efforts is unclear.
The Kuleana Campaign is treated as the messaging served to visitors once they reach the islands, Talwar explained, but the root messaging that precedes it comes from the #LetHawaiiHappen campaign — a social media engagement program meant for residents and visitors to share “their unique, only-in-Hawaii experiences.”
The campaign, which so far has close to 500,000 posts, has drawn justifiable criticism for its blank-check encouragements.
As the state and the tourism industry itself navigate how best to encourage more respectful visitors without walking back the welcoming promise of the state’s “aloha spirit,” many residents would prefer a harder reset on tourist expectations.
Some would like to put a sturdy door over the open invitation to visit their home and force visitors to always ask permission before they come in.
Lanakila Mangauil, an activist, cultural practitioner and founder and director of the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hāmākua on Hawaii Island, thinks the Kuleana Campaign is a good first step. In his opinion, however, it’s not being pushed hard enough. “It needs to be drastic.”
“Our oceans are empty; our reefs are dead; our birds are dying; we’re overrun by invasive species; and over-development in certain places — and irresponsible development — have just plagued us. We have been brought to the brink.”
A sense of entitlement
Certainly the tourism industry has rapidly transformed the landscape, oftentimes threatening the very environment that attracts so many visitors. However, it also collides with another issue: growing resentment among locals who feel respect for their home is painfully lacking.
“The tourism industry has groomed guests to be rude and tyrannical in their ways. It almost gives them that entitlement,” said Mangauil, who has had tourists flaunt the money they’re spending, some of whom have even gone so far as to suggest they’re paying his bills.
Hōkūlani Aikau, associate professor of gender and ethnic studies at the University of Utah and co-editor of “Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i,” agrees: It’s not that tourists are inherently bad, but that all responsibility as a good guest seems to disappear with the handing over of money.
“It’s the idea that they’re on vacation, they’ve spent a lot of money to get there, and they should have access to whatever they want. And when they don’t get it, then it becomes the natives’ fault for not delivering on the promise, even though they weren’t the ones making the promise in the first place.”
A new travel transaction
“Detours,” which reimagines the traditional travel guide and offers narratives to change how readers think about and move through Hawaii, also introduces the protocol of asking permission, but with a sobering addition: It forces visitors, as true guests, to confront the possibility that, sometimes, permission won’t always be granted.
Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and co-editor of “Detours” with Aikau, loves this aspect of Hawaii’s culture. Gonzalez finds “something really beautiful” about the practice, and is a proponent of visitors asking permission every time before assuming access, rather than taking it for granted.
Academics and policy makers aren’t the only ones having to consider tourism’s impact.
“How [this practice] applies to the world of tourism has been on my mind for years,” Clifford Nae’ole, cultural advisor at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Maui, tells CNN Travel.
Nae’ole recognizes the daunting number of visitors flocking to Hawaii’s lands every year. For Nae’ole and his hospitality cohorts, there’s a lot to consider in terms of both guest contentment and respect for the land and culture of the islands.
He employs a popular Hawaiian saying to explain: “Imagine being on a canoe: there are only so many seats in that canoe, so we really need to pay attention to its capacity. He wa’a ka moku, ka moku he wa’a. The canoe is our island, the island is our canoe. Once we run out of room and provisions on the canoe, we’re in trouble.”
This isn’t Disneyland
Many locals believe that one way to return to the kind of hospitality that Hawaii could sustain would be for visitors to acknowledge that the islands are the locals’ home, and that visitors are guests in that home.
Mangauil, who often works with the tourism industry to invest resources back into local communities, is a proponent of tourism, but not how it works today.
The peddling of Hawaii as a theme park — and with it, the expectation of 360-degree catering in exchange for the high entrance fee — is problematic.
Nae’ole agrees. Part of his role as cultural advisor at the Ritz-Carlton is to immerse guests in a unique sense of place, creating experiences where they may interact with the Hawaiian culture.
The challenge is doing so without diluting it or diminishing the people who practice it every day, with or without the presence of an audience. “Hawaii is a real place, and its people are not props on a set. The emotion of hospitality cannot be lost within the whimsical fantasy of visiting Hawaii.”
As a tour operator, Jason Cohn, president of Hawaii Forest & Trail, is also tasked with finding balance.
In addition to its regular tours, which already offer unique access to certain sites for its guests, the company curates private or custom tours for high-end clientele. But even then, Cohn says, there are still certain boundaries — set by people, place or weather — that he enforces and expects everyone, however elite, to respect.
Cohn references Paris to support this idea: “When people go to a place like Paris, they don’t expect the French to bend over backward and be whatever they want them to be.”
“They expect French people to be French. That’s what we need here in Hawaii. They should expect the Hawaiian people to be Hawaiian — not the Hawaiians they saw in ‘Blue Hawaii’ or [whatever] popular movie, but who we truly are.”
Aikau says it’s about guests doing the work of being a good guest, which, embarrassingly, doesn’t take much more than listening to your hosts with an earnest interest in learning, and asking — not demanding — permission to be welcomed. It’s not about driving tourists away but rather making room for a different kind of encounter, Gonzalez adds.
“We want to share with those who are willing to listen,” Nae’ole says. “We love to educate with those that will pani ka wa’a, wehe ka pepeiao — close their mouth, open their ears.”
Referring to issues like what the Honolulu Board of Water Supply is facing with the Ha’ikū Stairs, his remedy for visitors is simple: “Tell the host who you are and from where you’ve traveled. Tell them why you seek this destination. Try to become part of the island family rather than just a paid entrant to what you think is a free-for-all once you’re here.”
Of course, visitors to Hawaii will always be able to go, but at the very least, now, they must knock first, and respect the possibility that not every door will open.
by Juliana Hahn | 08 Feb 2020 | Projects TopHotelNews
The hotel sector of Latin America is experiencing steady growth with 521 properties set to launch in the coming years.
The 521 hotels are expected to add 124,515 rooms to the Latin American hotel market.
A growth spurt in the early 2020s
With 229 planned openings and 45,023 new rooms, 2020 will be the busiest year for the Latin American hotel market in terms of hotel launches. 2021 also looks promising with 152 new properties and 33,500 rooms.
56 hotels are slated to open in 2022 while 22 and 62 properties are planned for 2023 and 2024 respectively.
The focus here is clearly on high-end hotels with 270 properties going for 4 stars and 251 aiming for 5-star certification.
Leading national growth markets in LATAM
Mexico takes the lead with 133 openings and 37,459 rooms. Brazil follows in a distant second place with 66 launches and 14,456 rooms and Argentina closes out the top three with 49 new properties.
Colombia is next with 35 openings and 6,159 rooms, followed by the Dominican Republic with 28 launches and a whopping 11,955 rooms, which hints at a high average room count.
Chile, Cuba and Peru will see 26, 24 and 22 new hotels respectively while Costa Rica and Belize close out the top 10 with 12 and 11 properties each.
LATAM’s fastest-growing urban hotel markets
Cancún, one of Mexico’s most popular beach-side destinations, will see 20 hotel launches which will add another 11,427 rooms to an already very well-established market.
15 hotels will open in São Paolo, Brazil, adding 2,563 rooms. Punta Cana rounds out the top 3 with 13 openings and 8,278 rooms, again hinting at a high average key count.
Buenos Aires will also get 13 new hotels; however, they will ‘only’ bring 1,574 rooms. 12 hotels will open in Peru’s capital, Lima, while Mexico’s capital city will see 10 hotels launch.
7 openings are slated for Tulum, Santiago and Havana and Playa del Carmen, the final member of the top 10 will have 6 new properties soon.
Top international hotel brands growing in LATAM
Hampton by Hilton is the leading international brand in LATAM in terms of upcoming hotel openings with 17 projects and 2,141 rooms. Howard Johnson and Hilton Garden Inn follow with 15 properties each.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts has 9 projects with 3,089 rooms in the pipeline, followed by the Autograph Collection, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Selina with 8 planned properties each.
Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, Dreams Resorts & Spas and Ritz Carlton Hotels each have a pipeline of 7 properties.
Noteworthy hotel projects across Latin America
Roughly the size of a small village, the 3,350-room Moon Palace Punta Cana is scheduled to open in early 2023. The new luxury all-inclusive is the first Palace Resorts project in the Dominican Republic. It will include an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, 20 eateries, 9 bars, 7 swimming pools and a water park, along with a 75-booth wellness spa, a casino and a large convention centre.
In Jamaica, the 800-room Amaterra Resort is already making waves and construction has only just begun. The Amaterra Group recently signed a management agreement for the property with Marriott International. One of the main points both parties agreed on, was to give Jamaican firms and staff preference, both for construction and operations. This step is meant to ensure local people and businesses get to benefit from the island’s growing tourism sector.
The Sam Lord’s Castle Barbados – a Wyndham Grand Resort will be another stunning property guests will love. Set to launch its 450 rooms in late 2020, the resort will be in a spot previously known as a haven for pirates and a site of historically important events.
Finally, the 351-room Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman hotel and Residences will offer guests a variety of accommodation options including rooms, studio suites and multi-room apartments from early 2021. It will also boast six cafes and restaurants, a spa and fitness centre, three swimming pools, shops and a private screening room. Its 2,300 sqm (25,000 sq. ft) of indoor meeting and event space will be the largest function space in the Cayman Islands.
Is it possible for Seychelles to become too popular? Can the island nation's infrastructure and ecology cope with the growing number of tourists?
A new study in response to the growing number of tourists visiting Seychelles aims to answer those questions. It is being carried out by the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine in partnership with consultants from an American based company, Sustainable Travel International and the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation.
"The report will provide recommendations and will give our current status for us to adopt measures for the future so that the three islands remain sustainable," said Anne Lafortune, the principal secretary of the tourism department.
Tourism is the top contributor to the economy of Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean. Figures released by Seychelles' National Bureau of Statistics show that visitor arrivals for 2019 increased to 384,204, a record high, compared to 351,235 in 2018.
The study, expected by the end of April 2020, is in line with the Seychelles Tourism Master Plan of 2018 which calls for regular tourism capacity studies of major tourist sites in order to regularly review the implications of the growing tourism numbers and to measure their possible impact.
A local consultant involved in the project, Daniella Larue, told reporters that the study will look at data like the number of rooms available and new ones entering the market for the next five years.
According to statistics from the tourism ministry, there are about 589 tourism establishments in operation accounting for 6,332 rooms. Currently, there are available spaces for an additional 3000 rooms in the tourism sector.
The study, focusing on the country's three main islands, will also look at the ecological aspect and the impact of tourism development on it.
"There have been previous studies conducted in the north of Mahe especially in Beau Vallon. Now we need to look at the whole of Mahe if there is no over-development of tourism establishments," said Larue.
Aside from ecology, the study will look at other infrastructures such as the port and airport, town main point of entry for tourist.
The different policies and services being offered by different tourism establishment to ensure maximum revenue are collected from holidaymakers will also be looked at.
Lafortune said that the study on La Digue, the third most populated island, will be done separately as the island has its own charm, tranquility and expectation from holidaymakers.
"Is the expectation degrading? Are we doing things sustainably for the future? Is the development too much on La Digue? These are some questions that the study will answer for us," said Lafortune.
The study will also factor in the moratorium prohibiting the construction of large hotels currently in place until the end of 2020. Large hotels are defined as those having 25 rooms or more.
"The data collected throughout the study will also give us an indication on whether or not to lift the moratorium," said Lafortune.
A representative of the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation, Daniella Payet Alis, said the Foundation's role is to provide the consultant with local base knowledge on the tourism industry.
"Our team is known for doing this type of job. We are going to assist the consultant with technical advice and data that we have collected in previous studies," said Payet Alis
A consultative meeting is scheduled for Saturday, February 8 with the public to get their views "as we cannot rely only on scientific data solely," said Lafortune.
The airline is the first American carrier planning to purchase “offsets” for carbon emissions from all domestic flights, a move some activists denounce as a stunt.
BY KRISTOFFER TIGUE - INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS
Watch out U.S. airlines, the flight shaming movement is likely on its way to America.
That's what the head of New York-based airline JetBlue told investors during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call—the latest sign the aviation industry sees climate change as a growing threat to its business.
"This issue presents a clear and present danger if we don't get on top of it," JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said on the call late last month. "We've seen that in other geographies, and we should not assume those sentiments won't come to the U.S."
In January, JetBlue became the first major U.S. airline to announce plans to become carbon neutral as a way to assuage customer concerns over the impact of commercial flying on the climate. In a press release, the airline said it hopes by July to offset greenhouse gas emissions from all of its domestic flights by funding projects that help reduce emissions elsewhere.
The very notion of "green" flights strikes some climate activists as absurd. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and "low-carbon travel" activist, said there's no more potent way hour-for-hour to warm the planet than flying. He considers offset schemes suspect, and he believes offsets might do more harm than good because they make people believe they can fly without contributing to climate change. Kalmus notes that he speaks only on his own behalf, not NASA's.
But Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council told InsideClimate News that the offset market has made major strides toward becoming more standardized, transparent and effective.
Commercial aviation is responsible for 2.4 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and could account for up to a quarter of the world's carbon budget by 2050, according to a 2019 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation.
JetBlue's move follows those of a handful of European airlines—EasyJet, British Airways and Air France—that have made similar pledges to offset either domestic or regional flights through carbon offset schemes.
Carbon offsets allow individuals, companies or governments to essentially balance their greenhouse gas emissions by investing, for example, in efforts to plant trees or develop renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.
JetBlue said it will pay to offset roughly 8 million metric tons of carbon emissions that its domestic flights produce each year by investing in projects that include forest conservation efforts, landfill gas capture, as well as solar and wind power development.
JetBlue wouldn't disclose the cost of its plan. But Sophia Mendelsohn, JetBlue's head of sustainability and environmental social governance, said the airline isn't passing the cost along to customers, noting that it's "the cost of doing business" today.
Carbon offsetting is set to become a multi-billion dollar business over the next five years, reaching at least $6.2 billion a year for air travel alone, according to an analysis by Citigroup. That cost will be absorbed by the airlines or have to be passed along to the customers, Mark Manduca, who led the analysis, said in an interview.
A decade ago, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) set a number of ambitious targets to combat the industry's contributions to climate change. They include an agreement that binds the group's hundreds of member airlines, including JetBlue, to participation in offset schemes starting in 2027. In that sense, JetBlue is getting a head start in familiarizing itself with the carbon offset market, Mendelsohn said
But despite early pledges from JetBlue and other airlines to decarbonize, offset schemes—and carbon markets in general—have drawn criticism from Kalmus and other scientists, who say that offsets encourage industries and governments to continue polluting rather than cutting emissions. The critics also say such measures incentivize slower progress toward the kind of low-carbon economy needed to avoid climate catastrophe.
"Offsetting is worse than doing nothing," wrote Kevin Anderson, a leading climate researcher, in the journal Nature. "It is without scientific legitimacy, is dangerously misleading and almost certainly contributes to a net increase in the absolute rate of global emissions growth."
Offset schemes also lack consistent regulation internationally, Citigroup's Manduca said. "Who's actually regulating all this stuff? Water projects in Uganda. You have solar panels in India. You've got forest projects in South America. It feels very fragmented," he said. This makes it difficult in many cases to know whether money for offsets is in fact going toward carbon reduction, or even how those reductions are being measured.
But many in the aviation industry see offsetting as a necessary step to reducing emissions as airline travel continues to grow—and they don't have many other options.
Airline travel is also expected to double in the next 20 years, according to IATA estimates. And that growth will be particularly high in emerging markets like India and China.
Lower- or zero-emission planes, such as hybrids or electric, won't come into play until the mid-2030s, said Chris Goater, IATA's manager of corporate communications, and then only for shorter hauls. Until then, offsets are needed to close the gap between increasing flight numbers and emissions from current plane models, he said.
Peter Miller, who helps direct the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate and clean energy program, said organizations like Climate Action Reserve, a voluntary offset registry for which Miller is a board member, help add transparency to the offset process. Climate Action Reserve keeps track of projects while ensuring they provide "credible, quantitative, validated, verified emission reductions," he said.
"What has been established are these protocols that say, 'If you want to do an afforestation project, this is what you have to do. This is how you will calculate carbon emissions. And this is how you will report and verify those emission reductions,'" Miller said. "That gives a lot more credibility and accuracy to the overall project and avoids the problem where everybody is counting things differently."
Still, many still see refraining from flying as the better option. The flight shaming movement that started in Sweden in 2017 and gained worldwide attention with teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg's refusal to fly to the UN climate summit last year, has arguably put a dent in air travel for some European countries. (The Swedish word flygskam, which was associated with a rail trip she took across Europe last year, translates as "flight shame.")
Sweden saw a 4 percent drop in overall flights in and out of the country in 2019, according to an annual report released by the country's state-run airport operator, Swedavia. Germany is also expected to see a drop in the number of flights by 2.9 percent this year.
But the movement has also spread beyond Europe, including to the U.S. and China.
The European Investment Bank released a survey earlier this year that showed most U.S., Chinese and European citizens are planning to fly less over the holidays in 2020 as a way to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. respondents said they would fly less this year to help mitigate climate change, the poll found. For China, the numbers were even higher at 94 percent, and in Europe 75 percent.
More than 23,000 people have signed a pledge online to not fly this year. The website, called We Stay On The Ground, began in Sweden. Today, it runs independent operations in the U.S., Canada, Peru and Australia, among others, according to the site.
Kalmus, the NASA climate scientist, said he hasn't flown since 2012. As an academic, he said in an interview, avoiding flying has made attending conferences related to his work or even visiting family in other states very difficult, but that in the end, it's worth it to help fight climate change.
Three years ago, Kalmus drove three days from his home in Los Angeles to attend an academic conference in Maine. "It was the first time I drove all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast and back," he said.
In 2017, he launched his own website to promote the idea of not flying, or even flying less, and the site has since gathered nearly 600 people pledging to do so. Most of those pledges have come from either the U.K. or the U.S.
Like Anderson, another climate scientist, Kalmus doesn't trust carbon offset schemes, saying that flying less or refraining from flying is a better option. And he expects more people will join the cause in years to come.
"Just five years ago, you weren't seeing the massive wildfires in California and Australia you're seeing now. Or the massive flooding in the Midwest," he said. "That's not going away—it's only going to get worse. So, this movement isn't going away either."
Expedia recently put hotels on notice regarding resort fees. Expedia.com will now be pushing hotels that charge resort fees lower in search results. That means that hotel brands that charge extra for amenities and features could lose a lot of bookings among Expedia customers due to a lack of visibility. All of this is just one more stage in the saga of resort fees within the hotel industry. Both Marriott and Hilton are currently being sued by state governments on the premise that resort fees are deceptive and misleading.
Expedia and other third-party booking platforms aren't fans of resort fees. In fact, they have absolutely nothing to gain from the 'hidden' resort fees that hotels often charge guests. What's more, Expedia and its peers actually have a lot to lose from the fees. Customers who book through Expedia are often irate after discovering that there are hidden costs being added to their reservations. Those customers often blame Expedia for the costs. The bottom line is that hidden resort fees hurt Expedia's reputation because customers feel that Expedia has lied to them regarding true booking costs.
Expedia's announcement regarding search-result rankings for hotels that charge hidden fees is part of a plan to increase transparency. However, we don't know just how much resort fees will actually impact search rankings on Expedia.com. Expedia's algorithm for how it serves hotel options to users is obviously a secret. It is possible that resort fees alone won't be enough to dramatically drop a hotel's ranking. Factors like room rates and hotel quality are still going to impact what customers see whey they search. However, brands that operate in an industry as competitive as the hotel industry don't really have a lot of room to risk reduced visibility. Expedia isn't the only booking platform to penalize hotels that charge hidden fees. Booking.com also recently announced that it would be collecting commissions on resort fees.
Online searches can help countries predict tourist visits more accurately and give governments a better read on economies that depend on the industry, an International Monetary Fund analysis showed.
Combining Google Trends data with traditional forecast models improved accuracy of predicted tourist arrivals to the Bahamas from the U.S. by about 30%, according to a working paper by IMF senior economist Serhan Cevik released Friday.
“As tourism is the main engine of economic growth in the Bahamas, accurate forecasting of tourist arrivals is critical for informed decision-making by policy makers and businesses,” Cevik wrote, adding that the findings, consistent with previous studies, indicate search data can aid real-time surveillance and sharpen forecasts. Search data can help the industry better plan and invest, he said.
Improving estimates would help tourism-dependent economies like those across the Caribbean, where the industry employs millions and generates billions of dollars in exports, Cevik wrote. The Bahamas is “extremely dependent on fast-growing tourism,” which contributes about 48% of gross domestic product and 56% of employment, he said.
The study tracked Google queries from January 2004 to December 2018 for search terms including Bahamas in combination with words like travel, beach, hotels, resorts and flights.
Tourist arrivals to the Bahamas rose 9.8% over a decade to more than 6.5 million visits in 2018, with about four-fifths of those coming from the U.S. That already outsize role is poised to expand even further. The World Travel and Tourism Council projects tourism’s share of of GDP could reach 60% by 2030, and 70% of the workforce, according to the paper. That large footprint makes better forecasting all that much more critical for policy makers, Cevik said.
“While the tourism sector makes a significant contribution to the economy, it is also a major source of volatility due to greater exposure to external factors,” Cevik wrote. “Therefore, improving the prediction of tourist arrivals is important for forecasting overall economic growth as well as for effective planning and budgeting by the government and the private sector.”
'There is no longer capacity to provide these new complexes with the basic services'
The Cancún hotel zone doesn’t have the capacity to support new developments, according to the head of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur).
Rogelio Jiménez Pons said that Fonatur has offered land to developers of two hotels in an attempt to persuade them to move their projects to other destinations because the Caribbean coast resort city is unable to provide the services that new rooms would require, such as water and drainage.
The two projects the tourism fund is trying to stop are the US $1-billion, 3,000-room Grand Island mega-hotel and the 500-room, US $95-million Riu Riviera Cancún, whose construction was halted in 2016 due to environmental concerns but subsequently got the green light to proceed.
President López Obrador and Tourism Secretary Miguel Torruco announced in October that the former project, approved by the Secretariat of the Environment last July, was going ahead.
However, Jiménez said that Fonatur has now offered land to the developers of the Grand Island and the Riviera Cancún in other destinations “where new hotel investment really is needed,” such as Huatulco, Oaxaca, and other resort cities that were developed by the tourism fund as planned projects.
They also include Ixtapa, Guerrero; Loreto, Baja California Sur; and Playa Espíritu, Sinaloa, which is currently under development.
Jiménez stressed that Fonatur doesn’t want to “frighten away” investment but explained that the fund is opposed to the “overexploitation” of destinations that are already “overburdened.”
“What could be considered today as a gain for the region in terms of investment will be a loss in the long run due to the strain on the environment,” he said.
The Fonatur chief also said that a letter will be sent to the government of Benito Juárez (the municipality where Cancún is located) to request that no new developments be approved in the hotel zone because it’s not possible to keep building the new urban infrastructure required to support them.
More than 6,000 rooms, including those planned at the Grand Island and the Riviera Cancún, are already in the pipeline for the Cancún hotel zone, which currently has more than 37,000 rooms.
Jiménez claimed that corruption has been a factor in the granting of many construction permits in Cancún that allowed the hotel zone to exceed its density by double or triple the original established limit.
“. . .we’re going to proceed with a lot of tact, consulting with the greatest number of authorities. . . the [federal] Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources and city councils. We’re going to try to provide solid arguments; the main thing is for original density [limits] to be respected,” he said.
The reason for limiting construction of new projects is simple, Jiménez added. “There is no longer capacity to provide these new complexes with the basic services. . . of drainage, potable water and roads.”
Source: El Economista (sp)
Dominican Republic resorts posted a 71.6 percent average occupancy rate in 2019, a six percent year-over-year decline compared with 2018 according to the Association of Hotels and Tourism of the Dominican Republic (ASONAHORES).
Tourism officials linked the downturn to the “collapse” of U.S. visitor arrivals following the country’s struggles with issues related to safety and security last year.
ASONAHORES data published by the Dominican Republic’s Central Bank reports that resorts in the Romana and Bayahibe regions registered the country’s highest occupancy rate in 2019 (79.7 percent), followed by Punta Cana and Bávaro, districts (76.2 percent), which feature a concentration of large all-inclusive resorts.
Punta Cana and Bávaro declined by more than seven percentage points in 2019 after posting an 83.35 percent average occupancy in 2018.
In addition, the Samaná district posted the Dominican Republic’s third-highest occupancy rate (68.3 percent), followed by Boca Chica and Juan Dolio (65.5 percent), Santiago (63.8 percent) and Santo Domingo (61.1 percent). The Sosúa and Cabarete districts (57.3 percent) and the Puerto Plata region (55.7 percent) did not exceed 60 percent occupancy in 2019.
Dominican Republic hotel occupancy is trending toward a recovery, ASONAHORES officials say, as December 2019 closed with a 68.3 percent average occupancy rate and November ended with a 68.4 percent rate, exhibiting significant increases from September (54 percent) and October (55.1 percent).
The declines reported by ASONAHORES contributed to an overall Caribbean resort occupancy decline of 2.7 percent in 2019 as reported by travel research firm STR.
The Dominican Republic also generated the largest declines among Caribbean destinations in occupancy (down 8.0 percent to 67.7 percent), average daily rate (ADR; down 3.5 percent to $136.10) and revenue per available room (RevPAR; down 11.2 percent to $92.12), STR reports.
The Dominican Republic’s supply growth (up 2.6 percent) is a factor in the occupancy decline; the country leads the Caribbean in construction activity with 5,403 rooms planned or currently under construction, said STR officials.
Dubai became known for its gargantuan architectural gymnastics and mega shopping malls earlier this century. Today it is increasingly being recognised for its manufactured urban precincts, and large-scale events and festivals. Behind this shift has been an approach to urban development that prioritises the visitor’s experience.
As branding consultant Hadley Newman explains, visitors to Dubai:
…are seeking an experience, they want to take it home with them, or look back on an event as something like a new adventure – one that they may never have a chance to do again. People expect a complete experience that is distinctive in each place.
Placemaking is playing a key role in all this. Advocates for placemaking in the Western world articulate it as a bottom-up process generating activated, inclusive and enriching urban spaces.
In Dubai, however, autocratic ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is driving top-down placemaking of key urban projects. In a bid to turn Dubai into one of the cultural epicentres of the world, in 2014 he urged:
Let us work as one team to transform our city into a cultural hub that attracts creative artists … a vibrant place for all.
Supporting these ambitions is a government target of 20 million tourists a year visiting the city by 2020. (Dubai had 16.7 million visitors in 2019).
Ruler sets the agenda
Delivering this cultural experience are Dubai’s gargantuan property developers, including Emaar, Meraas, Dubai Properties and Nakheel. All are linked to Sheikh Mohammed and his ruling family and have placemaking-driven urban projects under way around the city.
“Brand Dubai”, the creative arm of the government media office, supports these developers through street art and art installations. These “communicate positive messages about Dubai’s unique culture, values and identity” and, by extension, Dubai’s leadership.
Most significant of the urban projects is the revitalisation and extension of the historic Dubai Creek districts. Sheikh Mohammed describes the area as the “very heart and soul of Dubai”.
Other key placemaking projects include:
Dubai Design District, which is planned to reflect positively on Dubai’s brand, through designer fashion and interior design
Jumeriah Beach Walk, which offers up an image of a bustling yet exclusive coastal promenade
City Walk, which showcases Dubai’s emerging (yet largely faux) urbanity.
Collectively these projects are elegantly designed and enjoyable enough to visit. However, they also embody socio-cultural agendas, a dimension of such projects that the urban professions (inclusive of placemaking) tend to overlook.
One of the key values of urban public space is that it carries the potential for random social encounters. Sociologist Richard Sennet argues that such encounters with difference is the key quality of true urbanity; that the density and diversity of people in public space has a civilising function that produces tolerance of difference and enables the formation of new identities.
Clearly a very multicultural city, such as Dubai, could function as Sennett suggests. But this is (often) not the case. Placemaking in Dubai carefully packages urban projects to offer highly choreographed and exclusive experiences for wealthy consumers, whether tourists or locals.
Dubai’s unskilled migrant underclass is effectively denied entry to such heavily place-branded projects. They are kept out not by fences, but by various “soft” strategies including high parking fees, lack of public transport, and aesthetic codes that signify a project’s exclusiveness.
As a result such projects (often) become “protected playgrounds”, which strip away the uncertainty and anonymity from urban life. As urban critic Kim Dovey explains, this “avoidance of risk leads [to the] sanitisation” of the urban experience, which otherwise enriches a city’s culture.
Nostalgic narrative has a powerful subtext
Much of the placemaking in Dubai has also been focused on recreating the traditional urban forms of a pre-petroleum Dubai, as destinations for Emiratis and wealthy tourists and expatriates. Examples of this nostalgia-laced placemaking include the Old Town, Souq Al Bahar, Souq Madinat Jumeirah, and Al Seef along Dubai Creek.
Further to its superficiality, the placemaking and design profession’s willingness to revive such traditional charades has a political dimension that goes unacknowledged. Cities do not “have” a memory – they “make” one for themselves with the aid of symbols, images, rites, ceremonies, places, and monuments. Dubai’s rulers use nostalgic urban forms, generated through placemaking, to construct a narrative that the rule of Sheikh Mohammed culminates a logical progression from Dubai’s ancient history to the present day.
The propagation of such narratives in Dubai is a flow-on effect of the Arab Spring. It has led to a harsher tone on issues of identity and national culture. Increasingly, locals are calling openly for state intervention to defend against “threats” allegedly posed by foreigners to “national culture”.
Sheikh Mohammed’s keen interest in branding urban open spaces in Dubai is not coincidental. The mobilisations of the Arab Spring all took place in urban spaces such as Tahir Square in Cairo and Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout. Attempts to promote particular nostalgic images of urban spaces in Dubai are, in part, an attempt to claim these spaces as not being open to appropriation for protests – subtle or overt.
Placemaking in Dubai is laced with complex power relations. This remains unacknowledged in much of the academic literature on placemaking.
Placemaking in Dubai – in some instances – has collapsed into a form of place branding that obscures societal exclusion, serves autocratic political agendas and grinds down urban authenticity. Dubai’s development companies are exporting their models of development to a vast region. It is important to scrutinise placemaking’s role in this concerning model of development.
This article is based on a longer version to be published in LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, no 11 (2020), and the book Desert Paradises.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.