Design, capacity & environmental challenges in tourism

For any tourism product to evolve a few points are critical:

  • Transportation links must be economic make the destination accessible
  • Ideally there must be capacity across pricing segments
  • The cyclical nature of the tourist flows must be addressed

Increasingly, environmental factors are also playing a role in the development of tourism products especially in areas where natural surrounding are the attractions themselves.

A Portugese firm has designed wooden pods which have multiple uses. The crux of their idea is that these pods are self-sustaining and do minimal harm to the natural surroundings. In their own words, “This module is designed for excellence to be installed in places that do not allow major changes in terms of construction and environment, for example, in parks, where construction is contrary to the principle of the park in areas already held, on beaches, in areas virtually where it is not possible for various reasons have access to infrastructure.”

Picture below illustrates how the pods look:

Pods1

The idea of the pods being completely self sustaining is especially interesting. From an installation perspective, these are brought via truck and/or helicopter and set (installed) at any location. For power usage, pods can be outfitted with solar panels on the roof and the use of vaccums helps limit the water usage (within the pods).

The mobility advantage

The challenge of tourism has always been seasonal demand and the high investment in fixed assets. For seasonal destinations, these pods may provide better business value as they are movable assets. More radical ideas can include matching supply with demand at destinations.

pods2

The other tourism challenge mobility can help alleviate is “supply.” Traditionally, it is extremely hard and expensive to curb supply for tourism products. Operators rush to build capacity ahead of demand and once this is done, the challenge is to generate enough demand to cover fixed costs, generate a rate of return to cover these costs and ensuring adequate pricing. When this does not happen, the problem tends to be blamed on excess capacity, dilution of pricing power and low rates of return. Indeed “excess capacity” has become somewhat of a consistent excuse for operators to justify lower margins and losses. Managing excess capacity till date is largely limited to discounting (a demand solution).

Environmental considerations

Environmental impacts are fast becoming issues that are integral to project viability. In case of tourism products these can make or break the project and in many instances, the alternation to the natural landscape deters operators from constructing in areas where there may be adequate demand.

Picture below highlights the contrast between an installation & construction at the same site.

Pods3

These pods may also have applications in “adventure tourism” where it may not be feasible to make construct new projects. For instance, sites with active volcanic activity which tend to be quite popular;  sites that are only accessible via air (such as clearings in dense forests); or areas with security concerns where insurance premiums on construction and loss don’t justify investments.

The “wow” factor

Visiting one of these installations tends to elicit the “wow” factor. The minimal design coupled with multiple uses tends to make these fairly popular amongst the local neighborhoods. Uses thus far have ranged from studios to coffee shops and lodging. The following pictures illustrate the use of these pods in various settings & configurations:

Pods4

Pods5

 

Emerging trend

With a growing focus on environmental issues coupled with new ways of addressing cost, demand and flow imbalances, ideas such as these will likely gather momentum. In addition, to being stand alone products, unique design elements can also help generate interest (via additional demand or at the very least footfalls). Whether these are embraced by the travelling public is yet to be determined.

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