Cities are splashing out, reinventing themselves as attractive sites for tourism and leisure. It’s understood that the mod-cons, logistics and creature comforts required and expected by modern travellers are present and accounted for – the rest is all drama and showboating as the city puts itself on display to lovers of art, history and architecture, iconic scenery and sites of cultural and religious value, to the sports mad, music lovers, leisure seekers and millennials travelling on the job, and more. There are even places to escape from the city bustle hidden within its neighbourhoods. Let’s explore!

How a city captures the heart

It starts with something innocuous like a daydream of experiencing sidewalk cafe culture in Paris, inspired by a beloved Vincent Van Gogh painting..

Or the love of a sport and pride in a favourite football club in some distant land. The city is identified and research brings its personality to life.

As suppliers of tourism products, we understandably hone in on our specific offerings as we market our destinations; but it’s worth considering the motivations behind travellers choosing your city as their holiday destination.

Sometimes it’s business or work that brings them to your doorstep, but when the meetings are done and they close their laptops, what you offer them in- and outside your premises is the value add that makes their stay memorable and your destination viable for a return visit.

The city has a heart of its own and travellers are drawn to it differently from the way tourists used to trudge through in the past, ticking hot spots off a to-do list. Some elements remain in the guise of pop culture and its influence, but essentially travellers are super keen to experience something unique, new and more meaningful about the city they’ve chosen to visit.

Sport might be more than a recreational activity – it might be a source of ambition, hero worship, the only affordable pastime available. It might be a source of tremendous national pride, like football and Rio’s Maracana stadium, cricket and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or rugby and Eden Park in Auckland.

A festival could just be one huge money-spinning party for locals, but it might relate to culture, teach visitors about local customs, it might be important agricultural milestones like harvests, or community celebrations. It might express the accomplishments and artistry of locals, or quite simply showcase how ordinary folks like to let their hair down. All possibilities are opportunities for the curious traveller to develop a closer, more intimate and accurate view of their host city and its residents.

Trends that toe the urban tourism line

Local living is an important trend to incorporate as a product extension this year. Short of travellers doing home stays, your offerings should include opportunities to enjoy the city as the locals do. That means taking cues from your local staff and doing research on social trends in the city to develop auxiliary products with yourself as the exploration base. Alternatively, simply provide comprehensive information to point your guests in the right direction so they don’t have to do the work of in-depth research, and incorporate the relevant content into your destination marketing. Bring local movers and shakers into your space to showcase their products, services and stories; and so provide valuable opportunities for local interactions.

Buena Vista Social Club, Havana

All cities have something special and iconic that sets its brand apart – sometimes this is something old or natural and pre-existing to tourism, sometimes it’s something modern and built for tourism purposes. I’m thinking of ancient pyramids that adorn the Cairo landscape flanked by made-for-leisure cruises on the Nile. There’s the year-round moderate climate of Medellin for which it is nicknamed ‘City of Eternal Spring’ and its smattering of bars inviting locals and visitors alike to watch, learn and dance to salsa and reggaeton music.

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Some cities are known for their architecture, iconic structures and statues, religious sites and places of worship. There are cities with iconic natural scenery and wildlife, palaces, castles, fortresses, etc. and cities that host the stories and homes of famous personalities, past and present.

Do your due diligence and get to know your clients so that you can identify the iconic attractions in your city that would interest them, and then make it easier for them to find, visit and enjoy.

This almost logically introduces the pop culture trend that incentivises Instagrammers and lovers of other social media platforms with their few minutes of social sharing fame, to take their pics and selfies #forthegram at iconic locations or events. Millennials in particular fall into this broad category, which essentially includes everybody in the world with a mobile phone and one or other social media account. They will travel to your city to attend fashionable and trendy events, festivals, they will want to visit and be seen at the trendiest restaurants, clubs, bars, shopping venues, parks, art galleries, concerts, fashion shows, amusement parks, theatres, museums, historical monuments, ancient statues, unique street patterns – whatever is iconic, recognisable, lit and on-trend.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco #forthegram

Even the wannabe trendsetters will try to popularise lesser known sites by posting the right pic on the right site and invite an online storm of likes and follows. Trends tap into all areas of life though and can include activities and concepts too. The perceived sophistication of the lifestyle of a faraway city based on an impression gleaned from MTV, YouTube, the movies or television is enough cause to visit. Just Google how many online searches there have been for the Black Panther city of Wakanda following its successful release. Fans of the movie want to go there! Pity it doesn’t exist. This is the power and influence of pop culture though – you’d do well to tap into it as and where it is relevant.

Business travel and visiting friends and relatives are both relevant to this trend, where the original purpose of travel can be capitalised upon by extending urban tourism products as secondary interests.

Bangkok Skytrain

This is where logistics such as public transport, roads, rail, pedestrian access, and general service providers in the city are key.

The city makes access easier and optimises leisure time; so all you need do is provide the information and opportunity to engage.

Does your client have an interest in music? Connect your brand with venues or events in your neighbourhood, whether it’s jazz in Toronto or reggae in Kingston. Do you have a family of former expats visiting friends in your city? Recommend new activities at city malls or parks, like Disney Sea in Tokyo or Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. They’re easy to get to and it’s clear what can be enjoyed there. That’s the convenience they’ll expect during their limited time in your city. Does your restaurant or any of your city’s finest feature on the world’s best restaurant list?

View from a restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo

Minding sustainability in the city

What’s good for the development of a city is a smart approach to mitigating the flow of tourism traffic at peak times, and if a city is effectively promoted as a year round destination, you stand a better chance of avoiding the dangers of overtourism. Tourism spend can be expected to supplement the city’s revenue throughout the year. The happy consequence of that is more economic opportunities and potential reinvestment in urban development.

Niagara Falls

As suppliers we consider carrying capacity in our public and natural areas, at popular attractions, in transport, as well as in accommodation options. As members of a community, we consider how capable neighbourhoods are to host and manage visitors, and the impact on culture and the lifestyle of residents. For a longer and more prosperous future in tourism, we’ll have to get real and accept the necessary limits on the numbers we allow in our cities at any given time.

Colder or less favourable weather won’t be seen as an obstacle this year as travellers consider taking advantage of less crowded spaces and lower prices during off peak season. It serves the dual purpose of alleviating the stress on local residents as the invasion of their lifestyle and space is less cumbersome.

More local involvement in tourism is the key to turning this around more significantly, however, when you can find and encourage entrepreneurs to make their services and tourism products available to your clients as value adds.

Sustainability by now plays an integral part in the travel decisions people make as they seek out companies that support their local communities and economies.

Locals know the true story of their city better than anyone and positive interactions between them and your guest promote better and lasting relations. It’s definitely what travellers want!

The city holds in its urban embrace an energy, the essence of living that draws the spirit; and where there’s a bit of ugly, as any urban sprawl is likely to remind us of, we can appreciate the juxtaposed inner layers of a complex society that helps us to better understand our neighbours. We need to look deeper inside the metropolis to find its heart and experience alternative views of its soul; we need to seek the hidden beauty of the barrio; we need to invite our willing hosts to share their culture and lifestyle with visitors and assuage the concerns of the unwilling that their homes won’t be trampled in the process; and we need to add value to the local economies.

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