Economic Development in the Congo BasinDouglas Baker, Deputy Assistant Secretary , Service Industries, Tourism, and Finance, ITA, Department of Commerce
Remarks at Ecotourism Symposium
February 21, 2003
Good morning. I am honored to be included in this panel today.
I have been asked today to spend a few minutes on marketing issues for the Congo Basin in light of ecotourism. Knowing that I have but 10 minutes to spend with you on this broad issue, I thought I would briefly identify the 10 best principles to consider in 10 minutes!
In development, whether it is designed for economic development or simply commercial development -- there is an age old adage -- if you build it, they will come -- with respect to ecotourism, my answer today is a conditional yes. If you market it properly, they will come.
1. Do your homework first -- Research, Research, Research
Identify potential markets -- know your best source markets and know your most potential raveler segments.
Identify potential products -- Do your due diligence. Inventory your ecotourism product, identify the best potentials.
Identify potential image positioning --Research and determine your competitive market positioning and the special edge you bring to a travelerís choices. Test market your positioning, ensuring the image.
2. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current products.
This step is critical to refining your inventory and determining your best potential products to gain focus and success.
3. Assess the funding and partnership potentials.
Itís expensive to start up a tourism marketing effort. Certainly we know that in the United States. Strength is in collaboration. Funding can be easily leveraged when you work closely with the resources that will benefit from this tourism development -- local, public, and private.
4. Work closely with the local community to develop understanding, involvement, and commitment.
Local residents can be the best ambassadors if you engage them in the development early on and with openness to their energies and ideas. Remember that responsible tourism is the key to successful ecotourism. The local residents need to feel valued in this development and more importantly they need to be a part of the sustainability of the site.
5. Train and educate the labor pool or workforce -- One of the great challenges of tourism development is ensuring that the labor force is available and trained in a high end service mentality.
This takes concerted and formal training and education programs which ensure that the expectations of service from the travelers are met. This factor alone contributes the most to word of mouth advertising, recommendations to friends and family, and more importantly, to repeat business.
6. Determine a selling proposition that can be fully delivered.
Once you have done your research, your image testing, your labor training and education, then hone in on a specific selling proposition that works especially for your ecotourism product. Waterfalls can be seen in many places, but yours might have the bluest water or the highest ledges for viewing the falls. The point is, donít sell what you canít deliver.
7. Start slow with cooperative, efficient yet effective and measurable marketing approaches.
Itís not necessary to carve out a world market first. Target your approach and make sure you can measure it, whether it be through room nights, tax revenue, or special gift purchases. Capitalize on the strength of your partnerships as I referenced in principle number 3. In this day and age, itís almost a given to also include an interactive internet site in the marketing mix and try to design it with the ability to book the trip. Packages could be offered allowing the cybernet traveler to make the decision right then and there.
They are the ďcheapestĒ approach. Having journalists experience your new product or your special tour is the most efficient and economic way to enter a marketplace. Focus on the travel writers and special interest group writers. Solicit the editors of the readership or publications of the segments you identified in principle number 1, research!
The same is true for the travel trade. Bring the trade to your location. Have them experience what you offer firsthand. This gives flight to their imagination and enthusiasm. Both the media and the trade can be treated to familiarization tours (FAM trips) which give you the least expensive way to start slow and build the momentum. They are both the first source of your positioning.
Ecotourism becomes obsolete quickly if the mantra is not to protect -- on many levels: the well-being of the residents, the quality of the environment, and the product itself. Safeguards need to be set up from the beginning that will ensure the health of the region and prevent promotion or marketing efforts from overrunning and destroying the very aspect you promote. Certainly another key here is to ensure that there are enough accommodations, restaurants - infrastructure -- to meet the needs and expectations. Remember, though, the residents and workers deliver the product in the end. Give them the due respect and partnership as you determine to move this Congo Basin region into the tourism arena. Thank you.