Antonio Roldán-Ponce, TSTT Steering Committee
Professor of International Economics and International Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences Dresden (Germany) and Head of Studies in Tourism and Event Management, Professor Antonio Roldán-Ponce is a specialist in the development of tourism development and management policies, and has been a senior consultant for companies and destinations in Europe, America and Central Asia.
He has held various senior management positions as CEO and COO, responsible for strategic planning and operational implementation, business development, commercial operations and product development for several international companies.
He holds a PhD in Economics and International Relations (Doctor Europeus, Summa cum Laude), a Diploma of Advanced Studies in Economics and International Relations from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), a degree in Contemporary History from the same university and a degree in Political Science and Sociology from the UNED.
Dear Mr. Roldán-Ponce, what is the current state of academic training in tourism in Germany and in Europe in general?
Academic training in tourism in Europe has been boosted in recent years by the growing demand for specialized professionals in the sector. According to data from the European Tourism Observatory, the number of students enrolled in tourism programs in Europe has increased by 20% in the last five years. This is due, in part, to the growing interest of young people in working in the tourism sector, which offers a wide variety of career opportunities.
In Germany, around 30,000 students graduate in tourism each year; the majority of them usually study at technical colleges and universities of secondary education, and a small number at institutions of higher education. Among the universities of technology, the tourism course is usually the largest, with more than 10,000 students. Germany is a fairly large country and, consequently, tourism careers vary in many respects: from the more conventional tourism careers, to those focusing on tourism management, economics and marketing, to those specializing in hospitality or business tourism. As for higher technical universities, these are focused on tourism management and planning, and higher education institutions focus on tourism economics.
This coincides with the rapid evolution of tourism studies in Europe. New approaches and programs are being introduced in response to the changing needs of the tourism sector. Programs are becoming more international, and more interdisciplinary approaches are being used.
In general, the tourism sector requires comprehensive training, and there is an increasing number of graduate students in tourism. The future of tourism education, however, is more complex. The efforts of all stakeholders are aimed at developing a training philosophy that covers the many facets of the tourism sector.
Tourism and economy are terms that are linked, what do you think are the most salient related facts?
The tourism economy is an activity that takes place in various parts of the world and has an economic, social and environmental impact. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that tourism generates 10% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and represents 30% of service exports. Tourism is an economic activity that has a social and environmental impact. Tourism generates direct and indirect employment in all sectors of the economy. Tourism is an activity that requires good management of natural resources and environmental impact.
In my opinion, there are many facts that link the economy and tourism. Tourism is an economic activity that generates income for the private sector and employment for the public sector, as well as creating jobs at various levels of qualification. On the other hand, from a macroeconomic point of view, tourism contributes to a country's balance of payments by being a source of foreign exchange for a country, expanding productive capacities both in terms of consumption and investment. And in this sense, it also makes it possible to diversify the tax burden, since tourism is also a source of taxes for a country.
Moreover, beyond the direct impact, tourism generates indirect income in local communities through the economic activity generated by visitor spending. As is well known, the economic impact of tourism is the sum of all expenditures made by tourists at the destination, including spending on accommodation, transportation, food and drink, shopping and leisure activities. The indirect economic impact is the effect that expenditures made by tourists have on local businesses that provide goods and services to visitors, such as food, beverage and equipment suppliers. Indirect economic impact also includes the effect of tourist expenditures on businesses that provide services to tourism-related businesses, such as insurance and waste management companies.
Taking into account your experience, what does the Tourism and Society Think Tank bring to the tourism industry?
In the tourism industry, what is fundamental is innovation, working with creativity and imagination, connecting all areas in a transversal way, from industry professionals to administrations. In the majority of large global tourism companies, ideas come from the people who carry them out, ideas come from the street, and we professionals are the first to see the new formats of tourism, of tourism consumption; we are the direct contact with the end consumer. These consumers are demanding more quality, more knowledge, they are looking for more experiences, they are looking for new experiences, new forms of tourism that are a little more cultural, more sustainable, that take more care of the environment and resources.
The Tourism and Society Think Tank is a platform that brings together academics and professionals interested in analysing the tourism sector from a social perspective, placing special emphasis on the creation of an interdisciplinary dialogue that regularly allows the identification of new perspectives on these issues. Most tourism development initiatives focus on customer satisfaction or revenue growth, and give little consideration to social impacts. Often, these impacts are not assumed until problems occur, and when problems do occur, they are generally difficult to reverse. In the context of growing social concern about the social impacts of tourism, the Think Tank can contribute to guiding development decisions in a more sustainable way by encouraging greater reflection on these issues by tourism sector leaders and decision-makers.
Where is the balance so that territories benefit from the tourism industry and citizens do not feel phobic about the arrival of tourists?
This is the big question. There is no magic formula, but what does exist is a clear shared responsibility between institutions and citizens. Administrations must adopt measures to mitigate the negative effects of tourism and generate a more positive model of coexistence and integration of locals and visitors. And citizens must assume the responsibility to act in a more supportive, tolerant and respectful manner towards others.
Sustainability is something much broader than protecting the environment and caring for local customs. Tourism is a complex social process and we must approach it from the perspective of people's quality of life for all. Tourism needs to be promoted as a more diversified and enriching economic activity. Tourist destinations need more diversified and interesting offers.
Dialogue, transparency and participation have proven to be key to improving people's quality of life. In fact, it is the most effective way in which we can promote tourism and visitors and transform the way citizens perceive tourism and the tourism industry.
The key is to find the balance. That is, that the tourism industry not only benefits local people, but also visitors, thereby creating jobs and strengthening the country's tourism brand. In other words, people not only respect the country when they are travelling, but also when they are not away.
In terms of tourism planning, and in the current situation of international uncertainty, what are the most important aspects?
At present, due to political instability and armed conflicts in some regions of the world, it is essential to be informed about the security conditions in the destination country and to take the necessary precautions. In addition, due to the economic crisis, it is essential to take into account the available budget and plan the trip accordingly.
It is therefore natural that international uncertainty is reflected in tourism planning. Planning requires a structural analysis of several factors, such as demand and supply, cost distribution, capacity management, quality levels, competition and climate change. Only after a cold analysis of these data, is it possible to select objectives and targets, develop strategies to achieve them, and programme the necessary actions to implement them.
Tourism demand is a reflection of the evolution of the world economy. As the economy improves, business travel and luxury tourism will increase, but interest in low-cost destinations may decline. In any case, whatever the international environment, competition between destinations and other forms of leisure will be an important factor. It is an unstoppable phenomenon that calls for personalisation and differentiation. Competitive destinations must be able to offer unique and unforgettable tourism experiences that generate life-long memories for a highly segmented and extremely demanding demand. These aspects determine the ability to offer a wide range of activities, the quality of the product and service and, finally, access to information by symbiotically integrating various channels and content. The tourism experience starts before the trip. The traveller anticipates and is interested in a wider range of products (a concert ticket, a car rental) and services (health insurance, tourist guides). But it also extends beyond the return home, as the tourist is a multiplier, a prescriber. And as such, they collaborate in promoting the destination by sharing their experience among friends and acquaintances.
In this sense, innovation is essential for tourism planning. Tourism destinations must be constantly evolving to stay relevant and attractive to visitors. Innovation can help destinations offer unique and unforgettable tourism experiences. It can also help improve the efficiency and sustainability of tourism. Finally, innovation can help tourism destinations address the challenges they face, such as climate change, competition and economic uncertainty.
In this sense, what is the challenge facing the university?
The university has a fundamental role to play in this innovation process, as it must be at the forefront of research and the development of new technologies. Moreover, the university must keep abreast of new trends in the tourism industry so that the training of future professionals is in line with the demands of the sector.
However, the main challenge for everyone is the globalisation of the economy, technology and society: a world in which the specialist and the professional must have a broad and global vision of their task and their environment, as well as a deep preparation in their speciality.
From the academic point of view, the university must ensure that the professionals who graduate from it are capable of facing the changes and challenges of the present and the future. The challenge is, therefore, for them to be able to solve complex problems in a multidisciplinary way, and to be able to adapt flexibly and creatively to new situations in their environment. Students must be able to analyse and understand the problems and challenges they face, and there must be a focus on finding innovative solutions.
As a social agent, the university must maintain a fluid and close dialogue with the industry and authorities to understand their needs and expectations, ensuring that its programmes and activities are focused on developing sustainable solutions to the problems faced by the sector and supporting with research and the development of new technologies the identification of new approaches that can improve the efficiency and positive impact of the tourism sector.
Do you think that, in general, current university graduates and future tourism professionals are qualified for today's job duties?
It is not possible to give a general answer to this question, as it depends on the university and the specific programme of study, the position to be filled and the country. In general, since most tourism programmes have already adapted to keep students up to date with the latest technologies and trends, tourism students are expected to know the current duties and tasks in the tourism sector. However, there may be some areas where students are not as well prepared, such as crisis management or digital marketing. It is very much influenced by the type of training programme they have followed and the education and training opportunities they have had.
However, I believe that most university students are willing to learn and adapt to new job challenges. In any case, the basis of training is to ensure that tourism undergraduates are familiar with the sector and its trends, providing a solid and comprehensive theoretical training, with a good base of technical and practical knowledge defined by real environments while maintaining the development of soft skills, such as teamwork, communication and creativity.
In your opinion, what should be the objectives of companies in their relationship with universities in general?
In my opinion, companies should aim to promote innovation, employability and the development of new products and services through a collaborative relationship with universities, in order to foster the development of research and human talent.
Companies should also seek to establish collaboration agreements with universities for the development of specific training programmes for their employees. In addition, a good relationship with universities allows companies to benefit from the academic, technical and material resources that universities offer, promoting mutual training and the exchange of ideas.
After a pandemic like the one we have experienced, do you think the tourism industry is prepared to face a similar situation or others like a war situation?
The tourism industry is in a very delicate situation. Due to the COVID19 crisis, many companies had to close their doors and many workers lost their jobs. The war in Ukraine has added a new element of uncertainty to the situation. However, the industry has shown great resilience and adaptability. This is due to the preparedness of the sector. According to a study by the consultancy McKinsey, the tourism sector has invested close to US$600 billion in technology over the last five years, an increase of 20% per year. These investments have been mainly in data management and analytics technologies, as well as online booking and payment systems.
Many companies have learned a lot and improved their crisis management processes. They now have better tools and approaches to deal with such problems. However, one has to be realistic in planning. In general we are faced with a reduction in people's purchasing power, with economies that have been hit hard and with a tourism sector that has had to make great efforts to stay on its feet.
The sector has improved its structures, increased its adaptability and generally become stronger and more resilient. But despite the efforts made, the sector is still very vulnerable and any new crisis could have very serious consequences.
Do you feel that the pandemic has introduced changes in the behaviour of tourists and travellers, or has it been relatively unchanged after the lifting of travel restrictions?
The pandemic has brought about a radical change in the tourism sector, both commercially and domestically. Tourism has resumed some activity, but it is far from the desired level. The tourism industry is experiencing a slow recovery and, given the context of the pandemic, it is very likely to take a long time to recover. In recent months, we have seen a significant increase in trip cancellations and customer refunds. We are also seeing an increase in travel offers to relatively safe destinations. Travellers are more interested in travelling to destinations that offer safer and healthier experiences, and are also more willing to pay for these experiences. Travellers are also expected to be more selective when choosing a holiday destination, looking for destinations that offer a good balance between price and quality.
However, do not expect the tourism industry to recover fully in the near future. The pandemic has changed the way we live, the way we relate to each other and the way we interact with our environment. The pandemic has been a "before and after".
Tourism, culture, society, economy and commerce are all closely related issues, so how can tourism industry professionals work in a balanced way with all the issues arising from these themes?
Tourism is a very complex industry, and as such we face a wide range of challenges. This implies a number of responsibilities, from the care of natural and cultural heritage to the proper treatment of tourists. It is very important that all actors in the tourism industry are aligned on the need to address these issues in a holistic manner.
In addition, technology has advanced, new lines of business have opened up and competition in the tourism market is increasing. Technology is changing the way people interact, communicate and move. And these changes are significantly affecting tourism. The impact of technology on tourism is enormous, as it is changing the way people plan, buy, consume and evaluate their tourism experiences. Social media and mobile technology are changing the way travellers inform themselves, plan and buy their holidays. And these changes are having a significant impact on the tourism sector.
On the other hand, tourism companies have to adapt and must plan strategically, first and foremost, they must have an excellent quality human and technical team, be well coordinated. Tourism that promotes sustainability, where the client is not subjected to a fast pace and where he/she is provided with an authentic and quality experience in contact with nature. More coordination is needed between political authorities, public administrations, tourism businesses and non-governmental organisations.
Finally, all have an interest in tourism, but work in isolated, uncoordinated sectors with different objectives. Many political and private actions can improve the conditions of the tourism environment, but many of them have perverse long-term effects and undermine the ability of territories to compete in the global tourism market. Often, short-term success is a distraction and is often just a marketing gimmick that damages the ability of the territory to compete in the global tourism market.
How, in your opinion, can a tourism destination benefit from the contributions of TSTT?
The ideas that emerge from TSTT can benefit a tourism destination in a number of ways. For example, they can help improve the quality of the tourism product, increase the competitiveness of the destination, positively impact the local economy and optimise the use of natural resources.
In addition, TSTT provides a forum for debate on tourism development and associated social and environmental issues that helps generate new ideas and creative solutions for sustainable tourism development and serves as a platform for collaboration between key tourism stakeholders, which can facilitate more effective policies and actions.
In addition, destinations can use the group's ideas and research to improve and attract more tourists to the destination by identifying tourists' needs and desires, as well as to find new and better ways to serve these tourists. TSTT is a network of professionals for professionals that identifies key trends, advancing solutions both analytically and educationally. A destination can benefit from TSTT's information assessment capacity, as well as the high level of professional qualification of its members for the development of training workshops and communication initiatives. The think tank can also help boost tourism to the destination by disseminating information about the destination and its tourist attractions.
Let's talk about the citizens who live in tourist destinations, what role do they play in the tourism development of destinations, and what are the main spaces for their involvement?
I understand that the inhabitants of a tourist destination are one of the main agents of change in that destination, since they are the ones who ultimately welcome visitors, interact with them and transmit the essence of the place. Citizens can help attract visitors to tourist destinations and help promote tourist destinations. They can also help improve the quality of tourism services and ensure that visitors have a positive experience in tourism destinations.
However, in my opinion, tourism is so ingrained in our society that many people do not even realise that it is an economic sector. And that is something we need to work on. What are the main spaces for involvement? There are many. Public space and social networks are the main spaces for citizen involvement in tourist destinations. From neighbourhood associations, to citizen participation platforms, discussion forums, etc. But I also think it is important to involve the local population in tourism planning processes. It is not only about informing them, but also about listening to them and integrating their input into our plans and projects.