The new interest in urban tourism: don’t forget the quality

Tourism is being seen as a cornerstone of a policy of urban development that combines a competitive supply able to meet visitors’ expectations with a positive contribution to the development of towns and cities and the well-being of their residents.

In most cases effort is directed at offering visitors a unique and original experience while trying as far as possible to satisfy residents’ rightful aspirations for harmonious economic and social development that shows concern for the environment.

Urban conurbations mirror the problems that face city dwellers as a whole: traffic gridlock, pollution, lawlessness and unemployment. They are not just the main places in which wealth is created and the focus of cultural and social development, however, but places where people live and work, shop and enjoy leisure pursuits.

Various interlinked factors have undoubtedly played a part in renewed interest in urban tourism:

  • the need to breathe life back into and rehabilitate the historic centres of towns, wider-ranging and more diversified cultural pursuits, consumers’ interest in the heritage and urban development and their search for things to do and for spending opportunities.
  • the fact that people are taking more, but shorter, holidays and the general increase in mobility have also helped to build up urban tourism in many countries
  • the broader range of activities and leisure pursuits that visitors are seeking is extending what is on offer. This diversification is also due to a growing awareness of tourism among political decision-makers who are increasingly keen to promote it as a key factor in economic development bringing wealth and employment.

Improving quality in urban tourist destinations is an essential requirement in satisfying tourists’ needs, in enhancing the competitiveness of the tourism industry, and in ensuring balanced and sustainable tourism development.

As far as the tourist is concerned, the satisfaction derived from staying at a destination depends not only on experience of specific tourist services, but also on more general factors, for example hospitality, safety and security, sanitation and salubrity, traffic and visitor management.

A large number of elements have an impact on the tourist’s perception of a destination, on the level of his/her satisfaction and, in consequence, on the tourist’s willingness to make a repeat visit and to recommend the destination to potential visitors.

The success of a destination in terms of the satisfaction of the tourist is a function, therefore, of several interdependent components. This underscores the need for strategic and integrated planning of tourist destinations, together with the selective use of specific tools and techniques to address integrated quality management (including quality control) of the destination.

Tourism is an abstract, fragile, perishable, extremely diversified and fragmented product. It requires a ‘quality chain’ made up of a large number of links (operators): tour operators, travel agents outside the destination, passenger carriers, travel agents in the destination, hotels and other service providers.

Visitors will also be faced with a set of stimuli within the destination which, although not specifically designed for them, will have an impact on their perceptions: security, the state of roads, pollution of all kinds, local services (internet access, cellular services, telephone), etc.

For visitors, the service provided by the destination then takes the form of a global experience shaped by multiple, frequent and varied interactions between all the factors of the system. Account therefore needs to be taken of the whole of a destination’s tourism system, from visitors’ initial planning to their return from their stay.

Urban tourism is complex, difficult to pin down and define, and depends on many factors such as the size of the town, its history and heritage, its morphology and its environment, its location, its image, etc.

Urban tourism includes activities such as:

  • leisure tourism linked to the particular features of urban areas;
  • business tourism linked to the economic, social and cultural vitality of towns and cities;
  • conference tourism linked to the facilities available in and the image of towns and cities.

A number of new trends are to be found, albeit to differing degrees, in many towns and cities. They show why towns and cities need to combine a high-quality tourist experience with the sustainable development of the town or city and the advantages that this may provide for them.


  • the strategic choice of many towns, cities and regions looking to improve their economies has been to develop tourist products based on their historic or contemporary heritage: history, the monumental or industrial heritage, gastronomy, art, culture and popular traditions, events and attractions are all resources that can be customised to provide a wide range of tourist attractions;
  • the wide availability of air transport and the improved quality of railways (high speed trains), coupled with major price reductions and almost permanent promotional offers, are among the driving forces behind the growth of urban tourism;
  • since towns and cities are less and less centres of industry, tourism is being seen as a key factor in their socioeconomic recovery and is often one of the priority strategies for their development and rehabilitation;
  • towns and cities are increasingly being seen as products that complement neighbouring more traditional tourist destinations, from which cultural or shopping trips may be offered as an added extra during a relaxing holiday on the beach, in the mountains or in a national park;
  • urban tourism is playing a growing role in local, provincial and national development policies, whether from the point of view of regional development, the environment or employment;
  • urban tourism is undoubtedly becoming an important political issue requiring an ever greater involvement of the public authorities because of the economic and social issues involved and the high-level investment (often public) needed for infrastructure, facilities and training. This is being reflected in practice by attempts to make facilities as multi-functional as possible and by the appearance, in many countries, of:
  • conference centres linked to complexes of hotels offering a wide range of standards, with large rooms that can be adapted to host concerts, sports meetings or even commercial events (exhibitions, trade fairs),
  • vast leisure facilities in towns and cities or on their outskirts (leisure parks and theme parks, etc.);
  • in a context that has become extremely competitive, towns and cities are working on strategies to differentiate their image and gain a foothold in the market; their communication policies are increasingly sophisticated and set out as far as possible a strong image of which their residents can be proud;
  • local officials are becoming aware that it is important to manage the tourism resulting from upgraded local assets. They are in particular trying to prevent town and city centres, where the tourism supply is traditionally concentrated, from becoming single-function areas that no longer reflect authentic urban life;
  • management of this type requires monitoring and follow-up tools and, in many cases, the assistance of the public authorities in coordinating activities and, in particular, integrating them into other urban functions; local authorities are also having to find ways of coping with local public opinion that is intolerant of the disturbances caused by a massive influx of tourists. For this purpose, they are adopting instruments such as a local Agenda 21, applicable to sustainable development in all fields, or charters.
  • the approach that urban destinations are taking reflects the need for the overall rehabilitation of their environment and the need to find a balance, within a framework of sustainable development, between resource management, economic performance and social aspirations. The issues of accessibility and mobility can also be addressed in this way;
  • in this competitive context, there is obviously a need for constantly improved skills and ongoing human resource training (visitor orientation, knowledge of languages, new information and communication technologies, etc.).

The lack of a cohesive urban Integrated Development Plan (or the inadequacy of the IDP) often causes a gradual deterioration of an urban tourist destination’s environment. Awareness of this deterioration and its future impact on tourism development and residents’ quality of life may generate reactions that ultimately lead to the introduction of a quality policy. To date few cities and towns outside of Europe have developed any integrated quality management initiative in the tourism context. Perhaps Responsible Tourism in cities (as adopted by Cape Town) will set new standards and provide momentum for towns and cities to adopt quality management initiatives that will take account of:

  • the host communities concerned
  • economic development in the broadest sense (including social aspects, employment, etc.);
  • the environment, culture and heritage;
  • the market, in its universal sense;
  • the travel sector in its broadest context.

Contact Lorton Consulting about your specific integrated tourism planning and quality management planning needs — we would be more than willing to advise you.


  1. On the best ways to connect preservation of heritage and modern use and how to create ‘future proof’ historic centres have a look at the work undertaken 9 European cities in the framework of the URBACT programme:

  2. Louis Ogola

    Hello, i am in agreement with the ideas you have put foward. Accessibilty, transport, communication all point to a city’s brand. I think Cairo has done well too, though i am not sure of its railway system. Louis Ogola. Nairobi, Kenya.

  3. Just remember the numbers. If the marketing is too good then the tourist swamp the attractions meaning no place to park the coaches and having to wait in line to get in to any restaurant or museum. The plan therefore needs to take into account the maximum number the site can cope with before you market. Cape Point is a clasic example of an over stressed site.

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