The Mongolian Economy Magazine recently sat down with Professor Alastair Morrison, President of International Tourism Studies Association, to discuss the Mongolia’s tourism industry, as well as current developments in regional tourism for special interests. Below are excerpts from the interviews with Prof. Morrison and others.
“The fool wanders, a wise man travels”, said British clergyman and author Thomas Fuller. It is prejudiced to call every traveller a tourist. A tourism industry that adapts its management and marketing well to the draws of a country and the expectations of its patrons will provide them with the best experiences. Those travellers will leave the country feeling as if it were their own. The sustainable growth of tourism is based on the preservation of nature and traditional culture. It has been 20 years since the seeds of this industry were planted in Mongolia. Now it is time for tourism to wash its face and come out with a clean and new look. It is hard to describe in one word how foreigners imagine Mongolia. Some envision the ancient land of Chinggis, nomadic civilization, beautiful nature, or a bustling mining industry. Though people around the world know Mongolia better now than in the past, there are still many who mistake the independent nation of Mongolia for the region of Inner Mongolia in China—or even forget that a separate nation exists. These days the mining sector gets the most attention and is the most stand-out feature for most. This is undesirable to tourism, which looks to entertain and give a freewheeling impression. Many feel the happenings in mining are overshadowing tourism in the country. The Mongolian Tourism Association set out to create the image that best suits the country for tourism. Meanwhile the image put out by various private companies and NGOs may be inconsistent with each other.
“It does not benefit much, though we spend a lot of money advertising to foreigners. This shows us that we do not have a definite overall understanding of marketing”, said, Nergui Shagdarsuren, director of New Juulchin Tours.
The subject that has gathered the most attention in the industry lately is branding. Travel companies have accused the government of taking tourism for granted in Mongolia. In the last two decades since the transition to a democratic and capitalist system, tourism has been grouped with various other interests and sectors in government, most recently settling with sports and culture. Almost everyone who works in tourism admits doing business is a mess here. They are nearly begging for a single, all encompassing policy they can follow. Recently, the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism presented measures to tourism workers, one being branding.
“It is vital to give the impression to the world that Mongolian tourism is amazingly unique and invaluable”, said Tserendolgor Enebish, director of Tseren Tours. There are many attributes of Mongolia that can represent the country, such as the authentic nomad life, different types of natural formations, its rich history and rare animals. According to global tourism branding practice, one thing is for sure: Mongolia has to choose one particular image to position itself in the world as a “choice” market”. Mongolia’s tourism industry will receive acceptance from the world when people from other nations can imagine a clear image of it. “Mongolia has to emphasize what makes it a unique place in the world. At this forum, people are talking about the nomadic concept. That is a good concept because many people know Chinggis Khaan”, said Alastair Morrison, President of the International Tourism Studies Association at the 2013 Mongolian Tourism Forum. “The most important thing to focus upon is to not try to be like other destinations.”
At this year’s forum participants suggested some branding themes such as “nomadic Mongolia” and “horseback Mongolia”. But these days Mongolia has many young Mongolians who do not know much about horse-riding equipment, how to ride a horse or cannot even recall the five traditional animals. “An image is something that is felt from a country’s wind and their resident’s eyes. It is necessary to find that image. Also, it cannot be something only seen in advertisements, but something every Mongolian can understand and express”, said Tsomorlig Erdenechluun, a lecturer of tourism at the National University of Mongolia. According to the company Total Marketing Destination, a brand of tourism introduces personality, tells a story, arouses the senses and stimulates emotions through its connection to the core values of that place. This contributes towards a deeper relationship between the place and its key audiences. A brand is inspired by the logo, colors, key words, style, fonts, emotional benefits, and personality. These characteristics set it apart from other brands. For tourism in developed countries, government binds the general policy while institutions like the National Tourism Organization takes responsibility over marketing. For instance, Australia’s major branding initiative, Brand Australia, was launched in 1995 by the Australian Tourism Commission. It broke new ground in how the country was branded to the outside world, separate from their mining. Australia’s nickname, “The Land Down Under” gives the impression that Australia is carefree and laid back. In addition to tourism, Australia’s strong brand recognition was helpful to trade, business, and investment opportunities into other sectors and industries.
“Our challenge is to capture and recognize that this connection with Australia goes beyond the physical to the emotional and is true and powerful for everyday Australia. We call it the ‘Australian effect’”, said Zoe Shurgold, a public relations manager to the United States for Tourism Australia.
There are two types of travelers: traditional and special interest. Special interest tours are designed to fit one’s specific interests. According to world tourism classifications, Mongolia’s tourism operations are categorized as special interest. Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism Tesedevdamba Oyungerel announced that her ministry was planning to develop regional tourism for special interests. Special interest tourism in Mongolia would include specific trips for bird watching, hunting, paleontology, nomad culture, photography, and winter excursions.
“It could be the best solution for us to have one main goal instead of chasing after many. But I cannot say that special interest tourism is the best fit for Mongolia”, said D. Gansukh, president of the Tourism Education, Training and Research Center NGO. Choosing a single image to represent the country is the most challenging aspect of this issue, but it is one other countries have struggled with in the past. “Special interest tourism is not just found in this particular part of Asia. It is a worldwide trend. It is a good strategy for Mongolia because it is not a mass tourism destination”. Mongolia’s nomadic lifestyle is the calling card of the country. This became evident after the slogan “Go Nomadic, Experience Mongolia” received nearly all the votes at the 2013 Tourism Forum. However, there is hesitation among people whether the nomadic way of life is a sustainable image for Mongolia.
“Growing urbanization and the vanishing of the nomadic lifestyle means there might be an absence of culture to display in Mongolia”, said Tseren Tours Director Enebish. Mongolia is not the only place featuring the nomadic lifestyle in the world, but it is perhaps the most authentic. Whereas in Mongolia nomads arouse romantic images and thoughts of adventure, in other countries the perception is of wanderers and beggars. Governments around the globe are confidently investing billions each year into establishing and exposing to the world their destination brands. In this way Mongolia can present its image at the frontline to global travelers and draw them like a magnet.