INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY™
Year 6 - Issue 71 - May 05
Burkhard Herbote: Mr. Tourism Information
Burkhard Herbote is recognised as an international authority on, and a source of, travel-related information, in particular tourism, aviation, hospitality and tourism media. He is also interested in German international relations, cultural exchange, foreign trade, third world problems, development and human rights issues. As a member of several travel, tourism, cultural and bi-national associations, Mr Herbote writes regularly for German magazines and newspapers and makes frequent guest appearances on German radio.
Burkhard Herbote began his career in the early 80s, while still a student, by acquiring volumes of information on faraway places. During this time he attended the College of Economics in Ahlen and worked for Krupp-Polysius AG, in Beckum in international sales. Today, his work is recognized as one of the world's best collections of travel and tourism information, with an unique sensitivity to the world's diverse cultures. A considerable part of Herbote's archive, particularly that covering lesser-known destinations is not available from any other source.
Until 1999 his main work was the World Tourism Directory, and he is also author of the Handbuch für deutsch-internationale Beziehungen (Handbook of German-International Relations), published by the German academic publisher K.G. Saur Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. In addition, Mr Herbote is a Founding Trustee of the World Tourism Foundation and has served as a Special Consultant to the World Tourism Organization.
In his spare time he loves the pleasant environment of friends or to walk and relax on the German North Sea Coast.
You have said that "your vision is to create bridges between nations, cultures and ideas to learn from each other and to bring peace through travel and tourism" And what a noble vision it is! But don't these bridges already exist? Is it a case of building the bridges, or convincing, psychologically and financially enabling enough people to cross them?
I am not a dreamer. I am very aware my vision sounds naive and maybe is naive, but we have to try, again and again, every day, to make this vision a reality. It is the art of the small steps.
It is hard work as it is unlikely anyone will succeed in changing the world. This is a permanent process and what is correct today might be wrong tomorrow, and what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. Quoting Aroha Crowchild (which is also WorldTourismDirectory.com's motto): "By sharing our cultures with each other we will learn. And once we learn we will know. And when we know we will understand. And when we understand we can appreciate each other. This is our vision for our people from the past, to the present and into the future."
Of course no one can change those who just travel to find confirmation of their negative valuations of other cultures. Everybody has the right to his/her own view of how things are.
For people who have contact with foreign cultures; foreigners in their own private environment; people who travel for business or other reasons and in general as a result of global communication extending people's horizon enormously, it is autodidactic grassroots work that is the best conflict prevention that exists. However, for those who do not realise we all are foreigners in 99,5 % of all other countries, even best visions and intentions cannot help.
Nonetheless, my job is the continuing development of the World Tourism Directory. This reference work tries to list all tourism leadership organisations which facilitate communication and it attempts to interconnect the operators within the tourism industry but also ordinary people around the globe.
The Languages of Babel: cultural wealth or cultural fence, obstacle for information exchange and understanding?
A mix of everything. There is no - can not be a - culture without language and no language without culture.
For business and intercultural relations, common languages (mostly English) are most helpful, but in order to understand a culture perfectly, one must not only understand the language perfectly - one has to feel it. When one is able to tell and understand a joke in the relative native language, then s/he does not understand just the words, but also the culture and mentality of the people. Correct translation should always consider the mentality. To translate word by word is generally a big mistake. History but also the present is full of such samples, where intercultural misunderstandings happen just because of word by word translations and the (often incorrect) translation/transfer into their own culture. Global communication networks (e.g. satellite TV networks) support these misunderstandings, at least partly - whether intentionally or not is another question.
I endorse any culture to retain its own culture and language. We need to have a colourful world! Nearly everybody is complimented when, as a foreign visitor, they try to communicate in the local language - so let us try to learn a little from each other.
Long before the "Internet" or "Globalisation" were in the Oxford dictionary, you were already a tourism information maven, with a global tourism contact network of your own. Has the Internet facilitated your research work, or made it harder due to competition and informational noise?
Well, whether I was or am an information maven is for others to decide. I started when I was a pupil and have now just passed the age when I am getting my first gray hairs....
Internet, of course, is a great help, which transports information faster - but it is also naive to believe that the information is up-to-date, just because it is online. The web produces an information overflow, which (often) incapacitates the user to decide which one is up-to-date and which one not. Unfortunately, the web is full of information pages, which have no editorial team and this happens especially with national tourism organizations.
Often, within a national tourism organisation, tourism politicians decide on a budget which is allocated to a private agency for programming their web page. However, the tourism organization itself does not have direct technical access to the website and is not able to make updates. Unfortunately this is still the case with many tourist boards, but also with embassies and other government agencies. On the other hand, there are tourist boards, embassies and government agencies which work very well and have "real time" live up-dates.
For the visitor, it is often not easy to realise which potential competing online information service is more up-to-date than the other one.
I never say my WorldTourismDirectory.com or my second reference, the Directory of German-International Relations (Laenderkontakte.de), are up-to-date. There is no directory or address listing available which is completely up-to-date, especially not when it has contact addresses from all countries and territories. But I work several hours a day on research and updates and there are some editorial contributors around the globe as well.
Yes, the internet is slowly facilitating my research, although I must still use email, mail/fax and telephone to verify most information. Telephone is my main important tool as well as human interaction, meetings at international tourism fairs etc.
A lot of mentalities need to know the person who is behind a product, a phone number (voice) or an email address. As long as this person remains an unknown "someone", he/she will not get a response or the requested information. That is maybe the case with more than 50% of all countries. Building personal relationships is the key. Internet is too "synthetic".
As an expert of collecting and interpreting raw data, how would you judge the quality (and its use by authors) of available information in tourism magazines and in academic tourism journals? Superficial perhaps? Have things improved at all since you first started and if so how?
For my research I have limited use of academic tourism journals, although most of their readers would appreciate the benefit / advantage of WorldTourismDirectory.com
With WorldTourismDirectory.com I provide listings of where to find such information and media contacts. I do not make any judgments on the quality of the magazines- just to be listed with my directory is no statement about the quality. The user/reader can decide this as an individual.
It is not correct or justified to speak about superficiality in publications (of course some are, some are not) - it depends on the journalist and we are only human beings after all.
But having followed the trade travel media and consumer travel media for more than 20 years now, it is quite interesting to see which countries/regions were "undiscovered" or "white areas on the tourism map" 20 years ago, because of what ever reason, but today there are reports available on these regions in several magazines.
I recall a series of country reports,” Destinations not known by everybody", I wrote for a German magazine 20 years ago. These reports were written about Mongolia, Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia, Albania, Belize, Cape Verde and Nauru. With exception of Nauru, all countries currently have an interesting and growing tourism industry. However, 20 years ago that was quite different.
I just hope these new tourism destinations will learn from the mistakes of other countries, especially concerning the environment and conservation of nature and wildlife.
Who would you feel are most appreciative of all this valuable tourism information you are gathering? Small-sized companies or larger corporations, government organisations or intergovernmental organizations or researchers. And who would you feel are the main beneficiaries?
I first would like to reply with a question in return- “Who benefits from and who is most appreciative of an encyclopedia?- Everybody who is looking for information”. In the case of WorldTourismDirectory.com (or the German site Laenderkontakte.de), the benefactors are the tourism industry itself, intergovernmental or international organizations, researchers, academics, the media, and students. Gradually, the traveler will become more aware of the information available.
The website was launched in March 2005, so it is still a baby, a big one, but a baby which needs time, assistance, feedback, nerves, money etc. to develop. Prior to its launch, it was a hard copy publication, published by K.G. Saur in Munich (before with Gale Research, Inc., Detroit, USA) in cooperation with the World Travel & Tourism Council and the World Tourism Organization. This hard copy publication has been sold mainly to large libraries, tourism associations and tourism media. The libraries provide the references, but they are not the user. Who the users are at libraries, is difficult to identify; I guess 50% researchers and 50% media/travelers.
What prompted you to publish all information of the Worldtourismdirectory.com on-line, and indeed for free. Practicality or vision? Can any tourism company add (or remove) its details or do you apply certain criteria?
I am convinced that the internet will be THE future information media. Currently, information providers are in the situation like using the first telegraph but dreaming of telephoning, rather than dreaming about mobile phones.... The internet is at the very beginning and we do not know what will happen in the next decade.
However, the internet will improve when the users are willing to pay for information; otherwise only out-of-date and incomplete information will remain available for everybody.
So far, my general view on the internet. On WorldTourismDirectory.com, the current version is also a test for us. The first feedbacks are quite positive. Placing the WTD on-line was an obvious step in support of my vision for "providing comprehensive information". Whether we will change the service into a pay-for-access site or whether some information or just key information remains for free, is not decided yet. I do not expect a final decision before 2007.
There are also plans to continue publishing print directories for those who prefer this kind of medium, but they will become more geographically segmented.
On the updates: So far there is a relative category and of course any tourism company, association, media, can add its details by sending us a simple email.
However, the World Tourism Directory is explicitly not an accommodation guide - I can not fulfill requests of hotels, lodges, guesthouses etc. Regarding finding accommodation there are a lot of other related hotel directories. Of course we cannot give any guarantees regarding the “seriousness” of any of the companies listed with Worldtourismdirectory.com
Verifying all this information must be a daunting task, have you managed to automate it?
You are absolutely correct. It is more than a full-time-job, and even if nothing changes it has to be checked.
After the launch of WorldTourismDirectory.com I expected some of the listed companies would contact me about updates, and the first updates are already arriving.
Later this year or next year, updates will be made entirely online where myself and field editors around the world can make updates. The updates will be instantly reflected in all mediums (new printed directories, CDs, etc) and on all websites where the information is displayed.
But just to provide a tool or a form in which to place the updates by the listed companies, is naive and never works with more than 5%. Similar methods in the past have proven a bad idea. Theoretically it is easy, but there are human beings who need to find the entries, understand the English forms and explain them, correct the entries where necessary, and it is necessary that all entries per country have the same model. We have a German saying "Too many cooks disturb the soup". There needs to be a nail ear where the information should pass through. This nail ear needs to be our editorial team, who can then type the updates in the needed format.
To make it work, means it has to be multilingual and automatic. The automated update forms can become complicated. So, concluding, it is better to send the information by email and we can follow up from here.
You also offer information consultancy services. Could you please explain what that is? Is it finding information to order, or rather teaching the process of finding information to others? Or do you rather prefer to zealously (but understandably) keep your methods to yourself?
Different. I am a "crazy scientist" and know (mostly) how to find data around the world. It is a passion. I have been doing this since I was 10 years old. Some call it a science, some call it an art. I sell this science/art as I have time. Over the years I have taught many an appreciation for this science/art.
You need to know that in addition to WorldTourismDirectory.com there is also a German website Laenderkontakte.de, which is the Directory of German-International Relations -a most comprehensive directory with a wide range of different categories e.g. politics, science, culture, trade/economy, media/publications, travel/tourism, ethnic groups, bilateral exchange, youth exchange, human rights etc. etc.
I often get requests about bridging a company or association with those who can provide the requested information or material, from simple information to raw material/products/import/export. So that is far different from WorldTourismDirectory.com but linked to my international focus.
One of your main areas of specialization is the "third world" development issues. What is your evaluation of the digital divide? Is it a worrying development, or, is on the contrary the digital revolution helping developing countries bridge real divides?
The "Third World" issue related to my work is a mix between WorldTourismDirectory.com and the Directory of German-International Relations, Laenderkontakte.de, which is more development oriented. In 2001 and 2003, I published the Africa Travel & Tourism Directory which, of course, put me in close contact with third world issues.
On the point of "digital divide": The Internet in many ways is leveling the playing field. A destination in Africa can now be displayed equally with a developed country. Of course, most people in "third world" countries do not have access to the telephone, TV or the Internet - besides all other problems (food, water, health, etc.) -thus it could be said that a digital divide is growing.
Regarding my daily work, communication and research, I find the Internet just a potentially quicker medium. But just because information is online does not mean the information is up-to-date and this is what the user needs to learn. If the people in charge of, for example, ministries, tourist boards, embassies etc. do not reply to letters or faxes, then they consider incoming emails even less. This is a mentality question and has nothing to do with the differences between so-called "developed" and "third world" countries. This also exists in the US, where it seems some websites exist on their own and it is impossible to get a response from a human being, automatic standard responses being the norm.
Philosophically, do you believe accurate information has an intrinsic value in itself, as a concrete basis of truth, or is it meaningless without a theory to connect it? And what about information in the wrong hands, where wrong can signify crooks, spammers, corrupt officials, and worse.
Information has held an intrinsic value, going back as far as you can think (Atlantis maybe?). Information gets in bad hands as well as good.
Spamming is a sign of the current times. As I said before and as everybody knows, with the Internet we are at the very beginning. I am convinced there will also be a solution to spamming issues. Those who misuse addresses for spamming, bombing with advertising, illegal businesses etc. will find thousands of other sources (online, CD, hard copy), legal and illegal, to bomb the cyberspace with information that no one really needs. But, one of the best inventions is the button "delete"....
You have monitored and dealt with various international tourism associations, organisations, councils and NGOs over the last two decades. How necessary and effective have they really been?
I could tell you many stories here - positive, negative, unbelievable, bureaucratic, endless stories without progress, but also stories about flexibility. Let's hope they continue to grow in their respective effectiveness.
You surely monitor everything, so you must detect new tourism trends as soon as they emerge. Any new ones lately? And indeed what is your evaluation of Ecotourism as a trend, will it last?
I am now so much concerned about trends as I am about facts. However, facts - even growth in listing segments - do demonstrate trends. Ecotourism is an example. In the 90s this has become a formidable trend. The tourism industry may actually do more to promote protection of the environment, than specific environmental groups have done. Tourism leaders have accepted the responsibility of protecting "our product", the Earth.
Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Again, I quote Aroha Crowchild:
"By sharing our cultures with each other we will learn. And once we learn we will know. And when we know we will understand. And when we understand we can appreciate each other. This is our vision for our people from the past, to the present and into the future."
Thank you very much.
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