Recently in a trip to United Arabic Emirates I was very surprised when in one of the biggest malls I saw a stand where with nice music and colorful signs they were advertising the Philippines. I was immediately attracted because in all my years of traveling this is the first time that I saw such an effort to promote that country.
Let me try to put it straight. There are countries that have developed amazing tourism campaigns. It is impressive to see for example Greenland with such a nice website, Jordan that makes available high quality printed material for its visitors or even Turkey and Thailand with very active branches around the world.
I am a firmly convinced person that there are beautiful destinations wherever one goes. And I know that there are different kinds of markets. Some countries try to target massive tourism while others just try to reach the elite. From time to time I have wondered about those countries that do very little or almost nothing to promote tourism. In these times of crisis it has been a fact that the tourism industry is something that can drive many resources to local economies. I know that there are many factors involved in the decision of a country to do more or not. For example some times it is local bureaucracy what makes it very hard for a visitor to get a visa, at other times it is corruption. One will be very impressed to see that on occasion is just self confidence, what I mean is that some of the destinations that actually do almost nothing for tourism are the ones that receive the largest numbers, it is just like assuming “they will come, anyway”.
This is not a political analysis, but I just came up with a list of some countries that I firmly believe can do more to promote tourism, there are others of course, but these are the ones that I consider having tremendous potential and they are still missing it.
When I say tourism potential this is the first country that comes to my mind. Bolivia offers tremendous geographical variety, an incredible culture and some of the most beautiful panoramas on earth. I have had the opportunity to travel this country and it is an amazing experience to go from the highlands of La Paz and Titicaca lake to the tropical rainforest of the Amazonian region. People are friendly and it is a very cheap destination compared with Europe and North America. It is a landlocked country, but that does not matter because with many other possibilities you not miss the seaside part. Salar de Uyuni is one of the must see for any traveler and Chapare in Cochabamba offers great possibilities for ecotourism. So what is missing here? There are many factors, some are political, for example, the decision of asking a tourist visa to Americans and making the process tremendously hard. Well Americans used to be the number one group among their visitors. Not anymore! Another big problem is corruption, this is a situation that affects visitors as well. Even in the airport I had the experience of a policeman trying to get money from me arguing that it was a new tax. On the other hand there is a lack of official promotion on the part of the country. Just try to surf in the web and there does not come any official page of tourism, there is not a Bolivia brand. Finally there is a lack of tourism infrastructure. It is true that one may find some good hotels in the main cities, but sill Bolivia is far behind in this sense. It is sad because it is really a country with tremendous potential.
A huge country, well the biggest one in the world. That is enough to imagine how many amazing places there are to visit in Russia. Almost anyone has seen in pictures or in videos the incredible Red Square of Moscow, or the beautiful buildings of St Petersburg. Still getting a visa to Russia is a very confusing and complicated process. It is harder in some countries than in others. I have friends who have had to wait a long time in line and go back several times to the consulate. In some consulates there is an even more confusing rush visa fee that people can pay, but that is not all. Many of the requests have to come with confirmed reservations from the hotels and with stamps of bureaucratic offices in Russia. This makes it really discouraging to apply for a tourist visa. The country itself offers very good infrastructure in that more and new hotels are arriving to the cities. Friends who have been there have really enjoyed the experience and strongly advise to visit Russia. There are some efforts to create a good tourist information service. There are some official branches in different countries, but a lot of the energy is spent in helping one to get the documents to obtain the visa, it is sad because the main focus of such offices should be tourism information. There have been new countries included in the visa free regime and we hope the list will get bigger in the future.
It may come as a surprise that we include here one of the top five countries in the world for tourist reception. The truth is that United States falls in the category of over-confident countries. Let’s start at the beginning: to get a tourist visa for the United States is a painful, long and expensive process for many citizens. The United States has their own reasons for doing this, but the truth is that there have been voices arguing that something has to be done about it. International Tourism has been falling incredibly fast in the USA. What is even more surprising is that until very recently the United States did not have any kind of official campaign to try to attract visitors. Actually it is just in the last months that there have been efforts to built an official brand. Yes, I repeat all this is incredible. There used to be local, city, state tourism branches but not national ones. Have you ever seen on TV an official commercial promoting a visit to the USA? Well if you are one of the lucky ones and live in one of the six countries that the new American Tourism Board considered worthwhile to announce in, you may start seeing some publicity soon. There is not even anything bad to say about the destination itself. The United States offers so much, actually with all those possibilities it is a shame that almost nothing has been done to attract more tourists and the nice benefits that it represents for a struggling economy.
People have been watching more and more TV commercials about this country. If one goes to the Internet one will find high quality videos about the destination with an emphasis on the fast changing capital Baku. Azerbaijan is in a process of modernization, at the same time it is a country with incredible history and culture. It seems that they understand the tremendous potential that the country has to attract tourism. It is really an alluring destination. Beauties are not only found in the capital, but beyond. It offers amazing nature and the possibility of exploring some of the most beautiful mountains. So it seems that everything is set to attract tourists: A great country, excellent tourism infrastructure with an strong official tourism initiative. So what is missing? That is what I have been asking myself, why a country like this would invest so much in all this tourism advertisement if it has not been working a lot to make clear and easier the tourist visa process. It used to be possible for some countries to obtain an arrival visa. Now is supposed that if there is not a consulate of Azerbaijan in your home country and you fly in a non stop you can get the visa on arrival. Otherwise it seems you can apply for it in the consulate, but in other places it says that you only can apply only through a tourist agent. In summary all the information is confusing, everybody needs a visa! How it does not exist a visa free regime for some countries like everybody else does? Well we are looking forward to visit Azerbaijan, it really looks pretty in the good quality brochures and excellent videos, but it seems we will have to await until we understand how to apply for a tourist visa.
Thousands of islands are already a guarantee of what one can find in this country. Friendly people, colonial cities, exuberant nature, breathtaking beaches worthy of paradise. In many ways it shares some of the beauties that are common to all the countries of Southeast Asia. Actually tourism is on the rise in this area of the world. Why is Philippines so far behind? It is sad, but Philippines only get a little piece of that cake of advantages that tourism boom is offering to this area of the world. I am not a local, but many people say that there is still a lot of corruption, it makes it hard for international companies to invest in the country, thus one can easily sense the lack of tourist infrastructure. It is amazing that a city the size of Manila only has some five or six high class hotels. On the other hand the capitals of the neighboring countries have dozens of these kinds of hotels. There are as well very few good beach resorts, the ones that exist are tremendously expensive and it seems in some ways designed to cater to the local elite class. Transportation is still limited, the national airline has had a monopoly on most of the routes and it is just in the past few weeks that new low cost airlines are making their arrival to the nation. What about a brand? It actually exists, and we have seen their presence more and more in online publicity, TV commercials and even in activities like the one that I mentioned at the beginning of this article in Dubai. I hope all these new efforts will be a sign of a change of mentality for good in a nation that has everything that is needed to be a big competitor in the growing tourism world market.
It is a magical country, mysterious and enigmatic. It has a tremendous historical and cultural heritage. There is something in all these countries of the Arabic peninsula that makes them excellent tourist destinations. Saudi Arabia has beautiful coasts in the Red Sea with some of the most untouched coral reefs. The cities have been going through an amazing process of modernization. Hotel infrastructure is one of excellent quality. Almost any imaginable lodging brand is present there.
There are even some good beach resorts, and their airports are really excellent. It is no secret for anyone that Saudi Arabia attracts may religious tourists and at the same time the country has some very particular points of view on many topics. Tourism as we understand it is not a priority since there is a belief that it may interfere with local traditions. There have been certain efforts recently to allow groups of tourists, but it is kind of hard to actually get a tourist visa, it is a very controlled process and a trip there can only be planned through one of the approved tourism agents. Just a couple hundred persons get their tourist permission every month. Maybe it is that they are very happy with the millions of religious tourists they get every year (mostly Muslims on their pilgrimage to Mecca). Maybe it is that here the economy is so good that they do not want to explore other resources. (their neighbors definitely like the benefits of tourism.) The fact is that most of the persons who visit the country on business trips are very happy and impressed with the facilities and the modernity of the cities. It is kind of sad that such an amazing country is closed for many of us, even more so when they can come to most of our countries without major problems.
It is a very small country with many nice things. From the volcanoes to the lakes. From the colonial cities to the modern capital. It is really impressive that in such a tiny piece of land there is so much to offer. El Salvador went through a difficult time in its history but that is in the past and it seems they see now in tourism a strong force that brings progress to the other countries of central America. There is a lot of money being brought by tourists to Central America and El Salvador wants some of those dollars. They have many advantages. This is a land with charming people and genuine hospitality. They do not lack natural beauties. San Salvador is a big city with good hotels, modern shopping centers and great restaurants. The fact that it is small makes it easy to go to all the different places in a short time. So what is lacking? I will say more tourist friendly infrastructure. I repeat there is not any shortage of business hotels, but in many ways we are still missing the tourist friendly element. They need to explore more their natural resource possibilities, there are very few beach resorts for example. The tourist campaign seems to be nice, they have a good quality website, but there is something wrong when you cannot contact anyone in their tourist offices and when the e-mail addresses are not working, it seems that tourism initiatives are still trying to survive in a sea of bureaucracy. So If El Salvador wants to be a serious competitor in the tourism scene of Central America, it has to put more attention on those little details and has to try at the same time to develop a more tourist friendly infrastructure. This is especially important when you have countries very nearby that are years ahead in this like Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Tourism in Mongolia can be defined as something more or less new. Well this is if we understand that before 1990 tourism was extremely reduced especially thanks to all the controls imposed on the traveler. Nowadays Mongolia is trying to promote more and more themselves as a worthwhile destination. And they certainly are a worthy one. This is a very big country with a fascinating landscape that nourishes unique, nomadic way of life and very few inhabitants give one the chance to see one of the most unexplored lands in the world. There is a government tourism campaign initiative, but it is important to face the fact that there is lot of ignorance internationally about the country and the possibilities for the visitor, most people never have heard the name of the capital or even seen a picture of the breathtaking landscapes of the country, Mongolia still sounds like a cool adventure beyond the possibilities of any normal person. There is even a nice website with helpful information, I personally think they may improve how the website looks. On the other hand there is still a need to develop more infrastructure especially with hotels and restaurants, the good news is that the government is pushing for that, offering good investment conditions. If Mongolia wants to attract more tourists it has to relax more its visa requirements. I think that is basic for a destination to extend the number of the countries included in the visa free regime. There are actually only five for now. We hope for the best for the future of tourism in this part of the world We know that a great experience awaits for anyone who jumps into this adventure.