Andrea Holešinská: “Communication is key for the development of a destination. The local community also plays an important role.”

3 Jun 2022 Jana Sosnová

What is destination management and where in the Czech Republic does it well? Why is it important to combine theory with practical knowledge? The answers are revealed in the course of a conversation with economist Andrea Holešinská, author of the new book ‘Destination Management: The Art of Developing a Destination’.

You’ve been involved in destination management for a long time. Could you explain what this term means?

The explanation seems simple – managing, i.e. taking charge of, a destination. But in reality, you cannot ‘manage’ a destination in this sense of the word. Why not? Because a destination is made up of individual entities who own local attractions, or who provide tourism services. Besides having their own legal personality, above all, they all have different interests. It’s much more accurate to foreground another, less dictatorial meaning of the English word ‘manage’, namely to ‘cope with’ or ‘deal with’ – to administer or develop – a destination. That’s why I have subtitled my book ‘The Art of Developing a Destination’.

So how does one manage or develop a destination?

Whereas a traditional company manages, dictates, controls, and perhaps regulates, a destination-focused company merely influences or promotes. Key is the so-called ‘3C principle’ – cooperation, coordination, and communication. Tourism entities should coordinate their activities to encourage mutual cooperation. For this to work well, open communication is needed. Without it, misunderstandings – and even disinformation – can frequently arise, leading to a weakening of trust between actors.

What can cause mistrust?

The development of a destination can become caught in a vicious circle. Communication failures lead to a reduction in trust and therefore a weakening of the willingness to cooperate. Consequently, no matter how well activities are coordinated, they cannot achieve their goal. The result is a situation where tourism operators lose the motivation to cooperate because they see no tangible outputs. This is then reflected in the whole management process.

Where in the Czech Republic does destination management well?

First of all, I would highlight the East Moravia Tourism Centre, which won the Destination Management Award of the Czech Republic back in 2010. At that time its headquarters was very progressive and managed to involve in its management key tourism entities from the individual tourist areas of the Zlín Region. It was a perfect example of participation in decision-making. Another example is Destination Management Český Krumlov, which in its early days was one of the few destination companies able to generate income from commercial activities, and thus operated without having to rely on public funds. In retrospect, I’d have to say that basically all destination companies are a ‘good’ example of destination management, because they got where they are by learning as they went along.

Could you cite some specific projects?

Generally speaking, you can point to two types of projects – short-term and long-term. The first group includes various events, such as the Karlov Gastro Festival. The second includes, for example, visitor cards such as the Lipno Card. The alpha and omega of a successful project are well-set conditions of cooperation and the intrinsic motivation of each tourism entity. For the former, it’s about transparency and equal rules for all stakeholders. With motivation, tangible results are important as a driver for continued cooperation, for example in the form of increased turnover or reduced marketing costs.

What sort of crises can a destination find itself in?

A destination can face natural disasters, political instability, war, economic crisis, or a crisis linked to the spread of a contagious disease – as in the case of the pandemic. Experience shows that preparedness is essential. But how do you prepare for such situations? As a rule, information transfer is important during crises. This needs to be set up so that everyone involved knows where the destination is heading. And this requires the use of effective communication technologies.

What’s important for the sustainable development of a tourist destination?

We usually only start talking about sustainability when we begin seeing the concrete impacts of tourism in a destination. However, the key is to try to prevent these impacts. In short, what’s most important for a destination’s sustainable development is that those in charge plan the area’s development in the context of global trends, taking into account the needs of local communities and responding to developments in the region. This is the role of the regional and municipal authorities, or the destination company.

What role does the local community play in developing a destination?

An important one. To use a quote from John Fletcher: “Sustainability involves a process of knowledge and responsibility.” So it’s about the knowledge that local people arrive at. Whether or not they come to see sustainability as a value in their lives and take responsibility for their behaviour. Sustainability is therefore in the hands of the local community and lies within the scope of their responsibility. Local people shape the image of a destination, and their satisfaction and values are reflected in the competitiveness of the area as a whole. If the local community makes its attitude clear, then this is reflected in visitor behaviour.

How important is it for you to link theory and practice in academic work?

Linking theory and practice is for me essential. In this context, the quote by T. G. Masaryk comes to mind: “Practice without theory is impossible.” Or Professor Streck’s oft-repeated words: “Grey is theory, practice is the green tree of life.” I just have to agree. One without the other is impossible – there would be no science in that case. I constantly tell my students that theoretical knowledge comes from practice. The interconnectedness of theory and practice is demonstrated by tourism operators themselves, who’ve incorporated terms such as the ‘3C principle’ or ‘destination company’ into their working vocabulary. To me, this is good evidence that theory translates into practice. So the enrichment of knowledge is mutual.

How long has your new book been in the making and who’s it for?

The book has had a relatively long history. It started to be written practically from the moment I began my PhD studies – next year it’ll be twenty years. At that time, destination management was a new concept in the Czech Republic, and even practitioners didn’t know it yet. The process of writing, creating the graphic schemes, and then editing took less than a year. The book is intended for use especially by students and practitioners. I’ve written it so that students understand what destination management is and how it works in practice, and so that practitioners in turn know how to develop a destination and where to look for inspiration. In general, the book is aimed at anyone interested in developing a destination.

Andrea Holešinská works at the Faculty of Economics and Administration at Masaryk University, where she co-founded the field specialising in tourism. Her main interest is tourism policy and especially destination management, which she has been researching since 2004. She is the author of several books, the latest of which is entitled ‘Destination Management: The Art of Developing a Destination’. She is a member of SVECR – Society of Scientific Experts in Tourism, and a member of the editorial board of the Czech Journal of Tourism. She actively cooperates with practitioners who are involved not only in research projects, but also in teaching.

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