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Local tourism awards Among the responsibilities of tourism associations is the encouragement of better management and marketing practices in the tourism businesses operating in their destination areas. One strategy used in pursuing this objective is the annual tourism word. Examples include the state-level Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) Awards for Excellence, presented for high-quality contributions in travel consultancy, travel agency operation, travel and tour services, tourism organ- isation and sales representation. Winners are chosen by a team of independent judges and a poll of travel agents. A wide range of sponsors includes airlines, cruise lines, tour packagers and travel insurance companies. Winners of State and Territory Tourism Award titles are automatically entered for the national awards, organised by the national peak body, Tourism Council Australia (TCA). They are judged by representatives from each State and Terri- tory, the large sponsoring organisations and industry bodies, primarily on the basis of their performance in marketing, promotions, services and facilities, Categories of award range from five-stor accommodation to environmental and cultural products. However, despite the popularity of national and State awards in the tourism industry, there appears to be a degree of ambivalence towards similar compe fitions organised by local tourism associations. Nonetheless, participation in award programs could be an important element in the public relations strat egies of firms in the following respects (Kelly & Spork 1999: • Awords can be powerful motivators for line staff and management, especially when accompanied by appropriate recognition, monetary or otherwise. Awards offer a credible means of self-promotion, since they are perceived by the market to involve impartial evoluation. • Award programs provide a healthy channel for competitiveness, especially in industries where cooperation and even collaboration) are increasingly common. • The award process can encourage the dissemination of ideas that facilitole organisational development and adaptation to change. • Award programs can generate positive public awareness of an association, industry or region. • Award programs publicised among appropriate audiences can be a more cost-effective form of promotion than advertising • Award programs provide opportunities for sponsoring organisations to extend their public relations programs. The national awards constitute the apex of a pyramidal structure whose base is the plethora of competitions run by local tourism associations. Associations offering an award program must allow sufficient load time, probably one year, for the organisational tasks involved and to give operators sufficient time to pre pare their submissions. Association tasks indude constructing and administering the questionnaire to be completed by entrants, selecting a judging panel, pro moting the award and encouraging local operators, collecting submissions and distributing them to judges, organising, presentation event and printing or engraving of the awards to be presented. Organisers must recognise the variety of tourism operations in the area for which they have responsibility. Separate awards may be offered in such categories as attractions, tour operators, tourism retailing (including arts, crofts, antiques and galleries), tourism wineries, restaurants and various accommodation forms (hosted, deluxe, self-contained, motel and so on). There may be an overall award recognising a submission of outstanding quality Generally those nominating for an award must be financial members of the organising association, which sometimes mounts workshops to assist operators with the preparation of their submissions, seen by many as an impossibly dounting task Entrants respond to a number of questions, which vary for each category but may cover such areas as the history and character of the operation, its major marketing activities and forget market segments, its quality assurance pro cedures, measures for continuous improvement, progress towards achieving awards are insufficiently prestigious and a lack of interest in pursuing higher level awards. The reluctance to enter was also ascribed to the number of operations locking computer equipment and the necessary technological skills, and the possible inability of some management systems to provide the required information Other possible discouragements included an unwillingness to relecse confi dential information, suspicions about the validity and fairness of the judging process and a view that there would be limle useful feedback from the exercise All respondents hod suggestions for improvement in the conduct and quality of the word program. Restructuring recommendations included: . tightening of the eligibility criteria for example, to accept only full-time operations) • a category to encourage newly established businesses . a further breakdown within categories (for example, in terms of size • restriction to one word in each category reduction in the number of awards (to avoid devaluation) the elimination of a committee choice to avoid perception of favouritism) • the inclusion of a category for multi-product businesses. Concerns about the judging process were indicated in suggestions that judges be demonstrably qualified that they be required to visit operations being assessed; and that they base their evaluation more on knowledge of each business and less on the written submission Not surprisingly, many respondents supported enhanced coverage and pres- fige of the words through greater media involvement, more vigorous pro motion; and recognition by the State organisation, Tourism Victoria. Suggestions for encouraging interest included offering incentives such as o prize for an entrant drown at random, preferential treatment for entrants at the award dinner, and a less expensive and hence more affordable) owards evening Local association organisers should take into account the concerns and reser vations identified in the above analysis. The suggested improvements might be reviewed as follows. • The judging process must be seen to be completely importial. Despite the desire for judges to have first-hand experience of each operation, it would probably not be possible for judges to visit all of them, especially if the awards become more popular. However, the use of non-industry judges with appropriate expertise and local knowledge should provide some reassurance and oct to constrain entrants from making inaccurate claims. The timeframe for the program must occord with the period to be covered by submissions, the availability of required business records and the time needed for proporation of submissions. Consideration should, therefore, be given to basing programs on the financial rather than the calendar year. • To avoid uncertainty, criteria for the awards must be clear to all parties involved Questions must be corefully vetted to ensure there are no ambi- guities and overlaps. • The confidentiality of submissions must be respected. However, it should be noted that the value and prestige of the program can be enhanced if winners are willing to share their knowledge. • Any changes to word categories should recognise the value of consistency with State or higher awards for which entrants may be preparing. However, there appears to be room for some amendment at the local level. For example, including a multi-product category would enable mixed operations to make more meaningful presentations, and a new business category would provide useful encouragement. • Some respondents believed that the value of the awards is diminished by having too many of them and more than one in each category. However, this view must be weighed ogainst the need to recognise the diversity of oper ations in the region, and the need to offer encouragement to operators who fail to win by a narrow margin. • Every effort should be made to maximise the publicity value of the awards fonts and the awards are insufficiently prestigious and a lack of interest in pursuing nigner level awards. The reluctance to enter was also ascribed to the number of operations locking computer equipment and the necessary technological skills, and the possible inability of some management systems to provide the required information Other possible discouragements included on unwillingness to release confi- dential information, suspicions about the validity and fairness of the judging process and a view that there would be little useful feedback from the exercise. All respondents hod suggestions for improvement in the conduct and quality of the word program. Restructuring recommendations included: • tightening of the eligibility criteria for example, to accept only full-time operations) • a category to encourage newly established businesses . a further breakdown within categories (for example, in terms of size) restriction to one award in each category . a reduction in the number of awards (to avoid devaluation) . the elimination of a committee choice to avoid perception of favouritism) • the inclusion of a category for multi-product businesses. Concerns about the judging process were indicated in suggestions that judges be demonstrably quolihed, that they be required to visit operations being assessed, and that they base their evaluation more on knowledge of each business and less on the written submission Not surprisingly, many respondents supported enhanced coverage and pres. tige of the awards through greater media involvement; more vigorous pro motion and recognition by the State organisation, Tourism Victoria Suggestions for encouraging interest included offering incentives such as a prize for an entrant drawn at random, preferential treatment for entrants at the award dinner, and a less expensive and hence more affordable) awards evening Local association organisers should take into account the concerns and reser vations identified in the above analysis. The suggested improvements might be reviewed as follows • The judging process must be seen to be completely impartial. Despite the desire for judges to have first-hand experience of each operation, it would probably not be possible for judges to visit all of them especially if the awards become more popular. However, the use of non-industry judges with appropriate expertise and local knowledge should provide some reassurance and oct to constrain entrants from making inaccurate claims. • The timefrome for the program must accord with the period to be covered by submissions, the availability of required business records and the time needed for preparation of submissions. Consideration should, therefore, be given to basing programs on the financial rather than the colendor year. • To avoid uncertainty, criteria for the words must be clear to al parties involved. Questions must be carefully vetted to ensure there are no ambi- guities and overlaps • The confidentiality of submissions must be respected. However, it should be noted that the value and prestige of the program con be enhanced if winners are willing to share their knowledge. . Any changes to word categories should recognise the value of consistency with State or higher awards for which entrants may be preporing. However, there appears to be room for some omendment at the local level. For example, including a multi-product category would enable mixed operations to make more meaningful presentations, and a new business category would provide useful encourogement • Some respondents believed that the value of the awards is diminished by having too many of them and more than one in each category. However, this view must be weighed ogainst the need to recognise the diversity of oper ations in the region, and the need to offer encouragement to operators who fail to win by a narrow margin. • Every effort should be mode to maximise the publicity value of the awards program and to enhance is prestige in the eyes of operators and the needed for preparation of submissions. Consideration should therefore, be given to basing programs on the financial rather than the colender year. • To avoid uncertainty, criteria for the words must be door to all parties involved Questions must be carefully vetted to ensure there are no ambi- guities ond overlaps. • The confidentiality of submissions must be respected. However, it should be noted that the value and prestige of the program con be enhanced if winners are willing to share their knowledge . Any changes to award colegories should recognise the value of consistency with State or higher words for which entrants may be preparing. However, there appears to be room for some amendment at the local level. For example, including a multi-product category would enoble mixed operations to make more meaningful presentations, and a new business category would provide useful encouragement . Some respondents believed that the value of the awards is diminished by having too many of them and more than one in coch cotegory. However, this view must be weighed ogainst the need to recognise the diversity of oper ations in the region, and the need to offer encouragement to operators who fail to win by a narrow margin. • Every effort should be made to maximise the publicity value of the awards program, and to enhance is prestige in the eyes of operators and the general public. Promotion should be conducted of the launch of the scheme, during its administration to discourage participant dropout, at the sword ceremony and afterwards. Involvement of the local media, for example, could indude interviews with and articles on post winners for even non-winners) and the benefits they goined from the experience • Evidently, oword programs, while generally supported by the participants, con generate some dissatisfaction, especially among porticipants whose hopes of an award are not realised. Attention should be given to anticipating such problems and identifying ways of minimising the damage. For example, should unsuccessful entrants be advised, with appropriate explanation and encouragement, before the presentation eveninge Responses to the survey generally confirmed that word porticipants held the expectations listed in the introduction to this review, especially with respect to marketing, and some saw the local word programos a slepping stone to higher level awards. However, the most striking response was recognition by mony participants that the value of the award exercise related primarily to internal management rather than marketing. In the preparation of a submission operators come to appreciate the business value of solf-discipline, adoption of clear goals and objectives, complete product knowledge, meticulous record keeping and forward planning It is apparent, therefore, that the local tourism Ossociation running on word program is conducting much more than a public relations exercise. It is focili- foting and overseeing an educational process that con contribute greatly to the enhancement of tourism business operations and the successful development of their region Questions 1 Is it necessary to be the winner of a tourism award to gain any marketing advantages from participation? 2 How valuable is a local tourism award program likely to be as a public relations exercise? Are there any dangers involved 3 Provide a step-bystep guide to the organisation of a local tourism award program

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