A Conversation with Burkhard Herbote and Planeta.com

Directing World Tourism A Conversation with Burkhard Herbote by Ron Mader

Foto: Burkhard Herbote

In creating the first publication of global tourism contacts, German national Burkhard Herbote has been providing great sources to travel information for nearly two decades.

Based in the city of Beckum, a small town in North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany he launched WorldTourismDirectory.com

In a conversation conducted online in May 2005, Burkhard shared his experiences and where he sees the ways of how tourism officials can make more effective use of the Web … and their own business cards!

How important is the Web to tourism?

The Web has its role, but in the sum of communication strategies, it’s not that important. For many cultures the internet is too synthetic. Nevertheless, I am convinced there will be increasing acceptance of the Internet around the world in the next generation.

People prioritize physical interaction. They shake hands, they engage in small talk and keep an eye on each other’s gestures. In some cultures, for example Arab and Latin America, when asked how important various communication tools are, the mobile phone ranks number one, fax number two, phone number three, letter number four and email number five.

How did you develop the website?

This past year we launched WorldTourismDirectory.com as a major source of tourism data — covering about 110,000 entries from more than 300 countries.

Is all the information up-to-date?

I can not guarantee for 100% accuracy. Most is correct, but this field is In constant flux. I need to hear that company XYZ in Congo or Mongolia has moved, association A and B in Papua New Guinea have merged together or There is a new national park in Tajikistan. You might as well ask how important are business cards.

Ok. How reliable are business cards?

I visit the International Tourism Exchange or World Travel Market each year. From the past four events alone, I have more than 200 cards with non-working emails. Some representatives don’t know the difference between their email and the website and they can’t catch a mistake if there is one.

Is that the only problem with email?

Last week I spoke with a secretary of a permanent mission of an African country to the United Nations. I was told they had not opened their mail box for a few weeks and realized they had received 3000+ messages. Because they could not identify what was important, they deleted them all!

Can tourism officials or operators submit their media releases? Can they request that specific news items be featured on your home page?

By August our news section will be fully developed. We ask all national tourist boards to include our email address on their PR mailing lists.

How well do Latin America countries fare in promoting their tourism services?

There’s a mixed record. Most leaders administrate and regulate, but they don’t promote. When I try to meet with them at international fares in Europe, it seems that most of the time they are out shopping and entertaining themselves.

A head of a national tourism ministry in Central America told me some years ago that he wanted to fire 85% of the people in his office, but because of bureaucracy, could not make any staff changes.

According to my source the former minister liked nice girls around him. The result … Plenty of pretty girls, but they just talk about parties. Do you think that office will provide any serious replies to an email? The staff only uses the Web for private chats … To plan the next party!

What’s your impression of tourism board websites?

Again, it’s a mixed impression. Some do a quite a good job. Other’s don’t. When calling a national tourist board, frequently I am told ‚Do not use the email address you see on the website, use this.‘ My response is always to ask them why they don’t correct the basic information on their own site.

Why does this happen?

Many tourism portals are managed by an external agency that has funding for six months. The site may be paid up for three years, but after the initial launch, there are no updates.

What else are you working on in 2005?

The big news is that WorldTourismDirectory.com will be partnering with the World Tourism Foundation to promote mutual understanding among various cultures around the world. I am also updating the Directory of German-International Relations and working with the U.K.-based World of Information.

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Author and Interviewer

Ron Mader is the responsible travel correspondent for Transitions Abroad and host of the award-winning Planeta.com website.