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Turning tourism into national cash-cow

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By Elson Mankhomwa:

WORLD ACCLAIMED —
Gule Wamkulu

Tourism, now embraced as the next big thing in Malawi and the world at large, is very much part of life today as it has always been. What may have changed today is the way of life and reasons for travel.

Modern tourism trends are emphasising that not all consumers want the same products and that tourist needs and desires are ever changing. This thinking is known as Post– Fordism or Post-Modernism.

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Fordism is mass production of standardised products and services mainly based on price competition by large, vertically integrated companies. That trend grew out of the Second World War when European nations had embarked on the rebuilding process of their battered economies.

In tourism, it means the production of tour packages focused on satisfying large groups and their basic needs with prices that are pegged to appeal to the masses.

In brief, Fordism Theory rests on mass consumption and, in the context of tourism, such consumption includes needs of tourists such as students and younger people who embark on overland track tours.

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Fordism is a term used to describe the typical postwar mode of economic growth and its associated political and social order in advanced capitalism.

In other words, bigger production renders goods and services cheaper and consumers get to consume only those commodities which mass producers find convenient to manufacture.

Post –Fordism or Post- Moderrnism is the opposite of Fordism or Fordist tendencies. There are many products and services that are developed and, indeed, more are being developed with a short or shorter lifespan but are all meant to meet the needs of certain sections of the tourist market.

There are, as at now, more specialised and niche markets such as space tourism— which simply means travel to outer space, to orbit the earth and beyond the earth’s orbit— Arctic and Antarctic tours, deep sea adventures and sea travel (where the cruise liner is a destination in its own right) and marine tourism among others.

Modern tourism has also embraced pronounced product segmentation. We are talking of events such as food fares, a pattern that is growing more popular in Europe, as well as an interest in the revival of cultural festivals for tourism purposes. Examples include Brazilian and Central American street carnivals, Kulamba and Kuomboka in Zambia and Umthetho in Malawi, apart from music festivals at the lake.

The ever changing consumption needs of modern tourists have necessitated flexibility among travel managers and tourism organisations. Consumption patterns have also shifted, largely because of the globally growing middle and service class that, according to writer Bourdieu, are the petty bourgeois.

While travel in the past was more of an exclusive privilege for the aristocracy, the advancement of living standards and more awareness has brought with it a new class of professionals and semi-professional workers.

In the 1980s, there was a general subornation of production to consumption, meaning that tourism organisations and managers concentrated on the numbers of tourists or mass tourism other than the range and offering of tourism products and services.

Media practitioners have played their role in changing tourist tastes. The interest developed by, and growth of, the media in restructuring tastes and fashions of tourism consumption is decisive.

In opposition to mass production, the focus is shifting to economically rich consumers where culture is the capital— targeting taste-makers such as journalists, politicians, opinion leaders and famous personalities and placing a strong emphasis on experience.

The actual consumption is becoming less and less functional and increasingly aestheticised tourism, where the artist and artistic thinking and expressions are taking centre stage.

Tour packages are falling as consumers prefer more independent holidays since many tourists have increased purchasing power, leading to tourism products being defined by tourist tastes and preferences such as critical consumer tourists, according to Krippendorf; ecotourists or ‘better’ tourists as defined by Milne.

Actually, prices vary from affordable to very affordable, thanks to increased knowledge on product consumer segmentation. This has led to the emergence of specialised operators that design tailor-made flexible holidays away from mass travel.

What this means is that Post- Fordism or Post-Modernism has drawn out the global importance of tourism as a means to accumulating cultural capital.

However, smaller tour operators that form the majority tend to have a very specific orientation as they target a specific market. The big operators, too, are refocusing their attention and products and services to include more flexibility, choice and niche products.

While tourists may have different tastes in terms of attractions, all travelers have wants that are universal in nature: at the airports, travellers want prompt departure and arrival services, in line with timetables.

Some of the notable changes have been efficient processing of services, accessible shops, duty free goods and related services, roomy and relaxed atmosphere for waiting before boarding the aircraft, denoting the significance of service provision at airline terminals.

Actually, all modern airports are well equipped to cope with the demands of the contemporary traveller.

And, while on board, the modern traveller wants in-seat space; onboard entertainment like newspapers or/and magazines; refreshments and, for long haul journeys and for those with children, TV/video set.

In fact, many women prefer a decent allowance for hand luggage size/weight. Other needs include courteous, attentive and helpful staff; desk check-in availability; self/online check-in availability; communication from staff when there is a delay; options on premium-economy, first-class and business-class and not having to queue for seats at the gate.

While there have been many innovations to ensure traveller comfort, recent research by Mintel has also shown that, even today, many travellers dislike travelling by air. Traveller concerns include unnecessary additional stress, flight delays and cancellations, lengthy queuing, unnecessary security measures, check-in problems, mishandled luggage, limited baggage allowance and schedule changes.

And there are also those met and unfulfilled expectations by tourists as they get to, and while at, their preferred destination such as unsatisfactory accommodation or favourite activity which are a discussion on their own.

However, travel and tourism have generally made enormous positive strides since the post-war period.

It is clear, therefore, that, while challenges abound, tourism organisations have put tourism on the map.

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