Travel Trends: "Embracing Change" — by Lakshman Ratnapala

If the rate of change inside your organization is greater than or equal to the rate of change outside, you’re probably in good shape.  If it’s slower, you’re toast.

As the very nature of the travel and meeting business changes dramatically, one of  the world’s favorite tourism destinations, San Francisco, is embracing change and re-engineering its marketing process to ensure it remains in front of the competition. Celebrating its centenary, the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau (SFCVB) has launched a Centennial Project,  incorporating a new strategic business plan, the largest research effort in the bureau’s history, a fresh branding of the destination, technology planning and continual reevaluation of sales.

More than six months in the making, the Centennial Project will help the bureau to “communicate in a way that will turn lookers into bookers and fans into evangelists” according to SFCVB Chair and General Manager of the St. Regis Hotel, Toni Knorr, who introduced a new purpose statement, “Lead the Way”, at the 1,000-plate 100th-anniversary luncheon on July 6, 2010.

Outlining the belief that rapid and permanent change is happening and all organizations in the travel industry better be prepared to embrace that change and adapt to it or risk becoming irrelevant, SFCVB President & CEO, Joe D’Alessandro promised “Change is coming and we will embrace it.”  According to D’Alessandro, change also means getting involved in politics — something that most destination promotional agencies stay away from. But the SFCVB CEO had no qualms about  urging the travel industry to get involved, not only in local community services, but also in the political process as well.  “We have to do a better job of educating citizens and officials about the importance of San Francisco’s number one industry — tourism,” he said.

D’Alessandro lashed out against moves to raise hotel taxes, already considered high, by another 2% to help reduce the city budget deficit. He said such a move would make the destination non-competitive, result in fewer visitors and kill more than 2,000 jobs. “The best way to ensure the tax base grows,” he said, “is to ensure the economy grows.  The fastest way to do that is to build the tourism industry, not hurt it.  We can’t afford to kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.  He threatened that if hotel taxes are raised, the SFCVB  and partners in the Hotel Council and the Chamber of Commerce will fight it.

He urged support for the “Civil Sidewalks” ballot initiative which seeks to make sitting or sleeping on the sidewalks a punishable offense, saying that “we must make sure that the streets are clean, safe and welcoming for residents and visitors alike.  We have to ensure that people behave well on our sidewalks”. He argued this is not about intolerance or taking people’s rights away, not about civil rights but about civility.   “We will no longer tolerate aggressive, bad behavior on the sidewalks,” he said.

In other words, the city marketing agency is  ready to take risks and disrupt the status quo in order to make sure the destination lives up to its brand. The SFCVB, which markets San Francisco, is one of largest tourism promotion agencies in the USA. Tourism is San Francisco’s largest industry, generating about $8.0 billion annually for the local economy.

Lakshman Ratnapala
BATW International Advisor


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