The role of tour operators in marketing destinations
Tourism growth is driven by emerging markets and developing economies. While mature markets remain the leading destinations in the world, there is faster growth in developing countries. In the year 2012, destinations spent $1,480 billion on both capital and recurrent expenditures to attract tourists to their countries. The key organizations at a tourism destination can be classified into tourism promoters and tourism services suppliers. Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) are tourism promoters and are often given the central role in marketing a destination because they are created with the overall responsibility of promoting tourism and attracting visitors to the place or region defined as their domain. DMOs are often publicly funded, have modest budgets, with little or no opportunity to generate income on their own. In addition, because they are not tourism service suppliers, they do not own visitor attractions or hotels and have little or no interaction with the tourists. Tour operators are also tourism promoters and are important stakeholders in the tourism industry. The purpose of this study was to determine the significance of the role of tour operators in destination marketing. The research was designed to examine the role of the tour operator in destination marketing, assess the effect of alignment of activities of KTB and tour operators in enhancing destination marketing and establish how the destination marketing role of government agencies and tour operators can be integrated and harmonized. The study adopted an exploratory design making the study both qualitative and quantitative. The purposive method was used for sampling. A sample size of 57 respondents was selected, with the target population being tour operators who are members of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators (KATO). Data was collected using questionnaires, which had open-ended and closed questions. Data analysis was done using SPSS. Data was also collected from destination marketing representatives of KTB using a group interview. This was done to determine their key marketing activities. The study concludes that tour operators are important links in the tourism value chain given their central role in marketing tourist destinations and creating tourism packages. The study therefore recommends that tour operators and KTB align their destination marketing activities for greater impact. Further study is recommended on the role of the other tourism players in destination marketing.