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Let's Talk Tourism

By Jason Swanson
June 2010

Over the past decade, I have developed a passion for talking about travel and tourism. I like talking about places or destinations I’ve visited, destinations I’d like to visit, and even destinations that seem like no one would ever want to visit. But when I talk about travel and tourism, my perception of a destination is undoubtedly different from how most people perceive a destination and the experiences visitors might enjoy in the destination. I view tourism the way an architect might view a city’s skyline or the way a geologist might view the Grand Canyon – through a lens influenced by experience, education, and enlightenment.

My professional experience in travel and tourism began with my first summer job in high school, which was cleaning rooms at an oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach. After high school, I held several jobs in almost every department in various hotels in the Washington, DC area as I worked through college. After earning a B.S. in Finance from George Mason University, I took a job installing hotel property management systems and training hotel employees how to use their new PMS. I traveled the country with this job – visiting many places I otherwise would have never considered visiting. I was on my way to visiting all 50 states, a feat I accomplished by the time I turned 29 years old and an accomplishment that influenced my personal philosophy in important ways.

While working on a PMS installation in Branson, Missouri, I began to think about why people travel. I wanted to know how a phenomenon like Branson is created and why people travel to such a place. This notion led me to a job with a hospitality consulting firm in Miami, where I conducted appraisals and feasibilities studies for hotel and hospitality-related real estate throughout the United States and the Caribbean. However, working on consulting projects at the individual property level was not fully satisfying my curiosities. I wanted to learn more about how the individual pieces fit together into a larger system.

I set out to discover what this phenomenon was all about by enrolling in the Master of Management in Hospitality degree program at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. There I worked with Mac Noden and met Bill Callnin, Cayuga's Chairman, and many other Cayuga members. I focused my studies at the Hotel School on public policy and tourism. During my time in graduate school I also created a consulting specialty helping communities develop their local economies through tourism development, which is what I did for the first two years after leaving Cornell. Then, I did something I never intended to do. I went back to school again and got a Ph.D.

My Ph.D. is in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management from the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University. My time at NC State helped round out my tourism education and experience by exposing me to natural resources issues and tourism. As at Cornell, my research focus was again tourism and public policy as I studied the federal lobbying and advocacy practices of tourism-related trade associations.

My experience and education resulted in a kind of tourism enlightenment as I sought clarification on understanding of the tourism phenomenon. I see tourism as the practice of traveling AND the business of providing and marketing services and facilities for those who travel. Tourism is both supply and demand. Tourism is a system of economic sectors and travel behaviors – an amalgamation of facilities, services, resources, motivations and activities that combine in some form to create individual travel experiences. As Mac Noden preaches, “tourism demand is the life blood for the supply side of hospitality industries.”

Tourism demand factors are visitors to the destination and the promotions and communications designed to attract visitors and create demand. Although many public tourism agencies such as convention and visitor bureaus are charged solely with creating demand, differentiating destinations is more difficult to achieve when supply does not exist to meet the markets targeted. Components of supply include natural resources, infrastructure, and operating sectors. The destination’s natural resources, such as its history and culture, serve as built-in differentiators for communities. Infrastructure is the collection of structures and services that support a community, such as roadways, airports, sewer systems, and telecommunications, along with police, fire, and trash removal. Tourism operating sectors are accommodations, auto transportation, entertainment and recreation, food, public transportation, retail, travel arrangement, and other businesses.

In addition to the 5.9 million jobs created directly by tourism in the United States, travel and tourism can also be a means to expand understanding among cultures. Tourism is an important economic development engine for many smaller communities, many of which are the destinations that seem like no one would ever want to visit, but people do. The size of tourism and its cultural importance adds to the magnitude of the potential impact if tourism policy challenges are not investigated and solved. That is what I now work on as a faculty member at the University of Kentucky.

Since tourism encompasses many operating sectors and demand components associated with hospitality and travel, I believe nearly every project that Cayuga members are involved in should include a tourism analysis component. Think about how your client’s project fits into the larger tourism system, how people travel to your clients’ businesses, and how public policy might affect the demand for your clients’ services. As you think and as questions arise about how tourism is important to you, your clients and your business, give me a call. Now that I have taken over the leadership of Cayuga's Tourism Group, let’s talk tourism!

Jason Swanson
Leader of Cayuga’s Tourism Consulting Services Group and a tourism policy and planning specialist providing assistance to public and private sector tourism organizations. Dr. Swanson earned a Masters of Management in Hospitality from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and holds a Ph.D. in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management from North Carolina State University’s College of Natural Resources. His expertise includes destination and project strategic planning, public policy development and advocacy, qualitative research methods, and public speaking. He is the co-author of Tourism Policy and Planning: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (2008), a textbook used by tourism students around the world. Dr. Swanson’s consulting experience includes working for clients in the restaurant, hotel, country club, spa, convention center, marina, golf course, destination, and government sectors in over 45 markets throughout the United States, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review.  All rights reserved.


Cayuga Hospitality Advisors

Cayuga Hospitality Advisors Articles of Interest:

Making Meetings Work - A Step by Step Guide / Robert Woods & Florence Berger / April 2010
Demand Management: An Update* / Bill Carroll and Mac Noden / April 2010
Investment Decision Criteria for the Gaming Industry - Time to Revisit and Review / Stephen Sherf / March 2010
2010: A Year of Challenges for Restaurants; Thriving in Another Tumultuous Year / Michael Lukianoff / February 2010
Make Sure the Right Contingency Plans Are in Place; Secrets of a Hotel Asset Manager / Jim Burr / October 2009
Update on Adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for the U.S. Hospitality Industry / October 2009
Do You Think Like a Leader or a Manager? / William P. Fisher. Ph.D. / October 2009
A Wake Up Call, The Shadow of 9/11: Terrorism and Premises Liability for Hotels / Carroll Dubuc / September 2009
You Need to Reset Your Exit Strategy / Jim Burr / September 2009
The Electronic Guestroom / Jules A. Sieburgh / September 2009
LEADERSHIP: The Basis for Management / William P. Fisher Ph.D. / September 2009

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