'Is the guidebook dead?' Panellists dicuss the future of destination marketing at WTM Silk Road Seminar

On 5 November, 2014, UNWTO and Travel Perspective held a Seminar at WTM London on 20 Years of Silk Road Tourism: What has been achieved and what's in store for the future? Speakers included:

  • Ms. Alla Peressolova, Head of UNWTO Silk Road Programme
  • Mr. Mark Frary, Co-Founder, Travel Perspective
  • Mr Gai Jorayev, Institute of Archaeology, University College London 
  • Ms. Helena Egan, Director, Industry Relations, TripAdvisor
  • Mr. Adrian Phillips, Managing Director, Bradt Travel Guides
  • Ms. Marina Badias, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Minube

Presentations for downloading:

Additional Information

Seminar Overview:

This overview of the seminar was kindly provided by Travel Perspective, full information available by clicking here

'10.30am: First session of the day is an annual seminar on Silk Road Tourism that we help the UNWTO put on at WTM. This year marks the 20th anniversary since 19 countries along the Silk Road signed a declaration in Samarkand to promote the route. Now, 31 countries have signed up. Come along and hear about progress and a debate with Bradt Guides, Tripadvisor and Minube about how well print travel guides have fared in the past two decades – and their future, too. The seminar goes until noon in South Gallery rooms, 13-14.

Alla Peressolova, Head of the UNWTO Silk Road programme, reveals progress in helping to open up the Silk Road to tourism – for example, Kazakhstan has a new visa free regime for 10 countries including Japan, while Russia has now visa -free entry for cruise tourists calling in at St Petersburg. Two heritage corridors have been developed, from China through Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan > Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, the Mission Routes of the Silk Road is a campaign to involve seven countries along the western stretch of the Silk Road. Read much more about this fascinating project at UNWTO Silk Road Programme.

11am: Developing the theme of corridors, Gai Jorayev, a speaker from the University College of London, talks about the categorisation of Silk Road Tourism potential. It’s very complex, this – protecting a representative selection of monuments for each place, not just the big ones. Those World Heritage properties are then linked by an overall framework.

Referring to the China-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan corridor, he congratulates the three countries for actually getting agreement, no mean feat. Input into sustainable tourism has already started, with several sites along the route used for promoting the idea of the corridor. “There is an urgent need to tourism plans to be put in place to ensure sites are well prepared for an increase in visitors.” Such a route will also help address cross-border visa issues.

11.15am: Right, we’re going to get stuck into a panel debate: is the guide book dead? We’ve got Adrian Phillips, managing editor of Bradt Guides; Helena Egan, director of industry relations at Tripadvisor and Marina Badias, head of strategic partnerships at Minube.

“It’s a bleak picture,” says Adrian, as sales of guide books have dropped by 45%. AA, Time Out are diving. But Lonely Planet is doing well and Bradt has seen growth in past couple of years. “Publishers have to do is have to adapt content they provide in print. No point continuing these template of providing information they can get online.

“But value on what we can offer: expert content curated by somebody who knows what they are talking about, packaged in a form you can carry on a trek that won’t need to be recharged and is easily navigable.

Helena counters: “I love guidebooks and still like a book. Tripadvisor hasn’t killed guidebooks but those who put content on our site (reviews of restaurants, destinations etc.,) are helping to share. We like to work alongside rather than feel we are killing them.”

Marina: “We don’t travel the same way we did five years ago. We have the community of real-life travellers that encourage others to make guides. On Silk Road, people look for wifi spots so they can connect and we try to answer all those questions, have real life conversations and answer them.”

It all seems very complementary. But, as Adrian says, live and on-the-road is fine but collated should be done by an expert. Like his authors. “I cannot see where crowd source information replaces good background, etiquette information. That should be an expert, not a faceless person on social media.”

Helena of Tripadvisor rebuts the ‘faceless’ accusation: “From the beginning, we can see age categories, where they’ve travelled so you see a whole history of them. It’s about personalisation. Faceless is going away online; it’s a thing of the past. There has to be a transparency there so we can see who we’re talking to.” Interesting Tripadvisor fact: There are 170m reviews on Tripadvisor, which means each of their 60m registered reviewers has written three each.

We’ll see what happens, says Marina. Travel bloggers are new evangelists for a particular adventure. “Who knows what’s in store in that sense?”

As moderator Mark Frary points out, people like seeing their name in print and on screen. But Adrian adds: “People will get sick of 200m reviews. You will see shrinking where this novelty runs out. People want the expertise filtered and trust the reviewer. Web has become an unmanageable resource.”

Tripadvisor counters: “That’s where personalisation comes in.” One of 24 companies Tripadvisor owns, Tripbod, does that too – meeting people in cities, showing them around, giving personal info. “But where we go, I’d love to know.”

Jo from the UNWTO swings chat around to Silk Road countries – and what they should do? Adrian: “It’ a huge and complicated area. Difficult to market those countries together. Be imaginative in how you market it. Be specific what you can offer and don’t use platitudes.” Says Helena: “Make sure product is right.” And Marina: “Silk Road route is a dream for any traveller. You need connectivity.”

Last thought: Bradt has had chats with Silk Road Programme about how to cover the route. It’s possible to cut up the route into sections that people can do. But that’s not economic for Bradt. So could be online, with local content and live, personalised information added to. Can combine all three speakers into one project. Interesting…'