Intellectual Property and competitiveness in the tourism industry

Intellectual Property, Aleck Ncube
ZIMBABWE is no longer operating in an economy characterised by scarcity but one of plenty, where a multitude of providers jostle for limited space.

Success in today’s globalised and very crowded economic environment is, therefore, about adding value and offerings differentiated product.

This is true whether we are talking about goods orservices. The intellectual property system provides exclusive rights thus providing the tools for enhancing the competitiveness of enterprises and ultimately of an economy as a whole.

According to the World Trade Organisation, services represent the fastest growing sector of the global economy and account for two thirds of global output, one third of global employment and nearly 20 percent of global trade.

The tourism industry has experienced continuous growth in the service sector and, according to the World Tourism Organisation, its business volume equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce, and represents, at the same time, one of the main income sources for many developing countries, Zimbabwe included.

Tourism –what does it entail
Why do people travel? People travel for a variety of reasons. It could be to experience the culture of another people, expressed through their music, their food, their customs, their arts and crafts, their costumes, language, religions etc…

Culture may alsobe manifested by monuments and sites, history, architecture, which also provides a cultural experience. People are also attracted by nature whether it be sandy beaches, wildlife, mountains, lakes or forests, islands, mountains, national parks, lakes, lagoons, rivers, caves, gorges where the main interest is the observation, appreciation, enjoyment and an awareness of the importance of protecting such natural environments.

Some of the ways in which we see countries trying to add value, and thereby trying to differentiate themselves, is by creating niche markets catering to a certain clientele.

The birth of ecological tourism has gained a lot of momentum lately due to the rising consciousness, particularly in the developed world, of the importance of the environment.

The main message of eco-tourism is protecting and maintaining the environment and ensuring that the impact of tourism on the environment is at a minimum. It also promotes conservation and local traditions and aims through that process to protect and develop the region. Eco-tourism appeals to the ecologically and socially conscious individuals involving travel to destinations where flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions.

It also demands a certain responsibility and accountability of its clientele promoting recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, and creation of economic opportunities for the local communities. There is also agro-tourism, which involves touring local farms to viewing the growing, harvesting, and processing of locally grown foods as well as sampling them onsite or in local restaurants and cafes.

There is a growing market for therapeutic or health tourism where the main objective is natural treatment through spas, where certain natural properties are known toexist in a particular location. There is now a growing market for religious tourism or pilgrimages where major sites of importance to different religions attract large numbers of tourists.

The tools of the intellectual property system are amply applicable to the tourism sector. Broadly speaking, developing and exploiting brands is particularly appropriate tothe service sector and thus to the tourism sector. Core to developing and exploiting abrand are trademarks, geographical indications (certification marks, collective marks or asui generis system) or industrial designs as well as other intellectual property rights such as patents, copyrights and trade secrets, which contribute to the whole brand image.

Relevance of the Intellectual Property System to the Tourism Sector
All of the different tools of the Intellectual Property system, which provide an exclusive right of exploitation and of preventing unauthorised third parties from benefiting from that right are amply useful for the tourism sector.

Efforts to brand places also known as “destination branding” has at its core a trademark, whether by virtue of a registered logo or tagline. Branding is more than the registered logo or tagline but it is its bedrock.

Also, creating a fancy logo or catchy tag line is not enough for trademark purposes. They should ideally be registered in the relevant national or regional register for trademarks and, depending on a variety of factors, should also be registered internationally.

Many cities, regions and countries are realising the importance of differentiating themselves from the rest, creating a niche market and an individual appeal that will translate into more tourist arrivals.

Certification marks
These provide a competitive advantage by creating added value and achieving competitive differentiation. Collective marks are defined as: “signs distinguishing the geographical origin, material, mode of manufacture or other common characteristics of the goods and services of the various undertakings using the collective mark”.

The owner of the mark guarantees that common rules are followed to guarantee the quality and differentiating elements (historical, cultural and social conditions) that have led to the granting of registration. In the tourism sector it is mainly associated with the promotion of products characteristic of a geographical area.

This does the following; promotes the commercialisation of products and services of the same geographical area and a framework of cooperation between producers in the same area. In the face of competition, it raises the possibility of establishing franchises in hotels, restaurant, transport services, among others. An example of this is Hilton hotels.

Geographical Indications
A geographical indication [GI] is a sign used for products having a specific geographical origin and whose qualities, reputation and characteristics are essentially due to their place of origin”. Generally, GIs apply to agricultural products (food, wine, grains, tobacco leaves, fruits, animals, minerals, mineral waters, beers, flowers, flour), handicrafts, some industrial products, and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs).

In the tourism sector, geographical indications play several roles. They increase the possibilities of internal and external marketing, based on the specific characteristics of the product or service, especially associated with agro-tourism.

Increase the cohesion of producers
Establishment of code of practices or standards guarantees the quality of the product or service. Creation of marketing strategies related to products such as food, sale or transport services. There is also increased tourism associated with traditional cultural expressions like festivals and creation of specialised markets to meet the needs of tourists who love a specific product.

Geographical indications may be covered by certification or collective marks, but it is not a single requirement. Some examples of geographical indications associated with tourism are: tequila, roquefort cheese, Georgia wine, Thai Silk, amongothers.

Industrial designs
Industrial designs are associated with designs applied to merchandising objects, which can also be licensed, handicrafts and traditional products, which may be protected by geographical indications. The intellectual property system provides very powerful tools for strengthening the competitiveness of those operating within the tourism industry.

The rules of the game today are no longer what they used to be. Competition is very intense and the knowledge economy rewards those who understand the importance of intangibles and their role in differentiating and adding value to products. The intellectual property system provides the structure and the tools for protecting, managing, exploiting and enforcing the rights arising from such intangibles.

Aleck Ncube is an intellectual property scholar based in Bulawayo. He can be contacted on mobile: +263712374408 Skype: Matintas1 Twitter: @aleckncube Alternative E-mail: [email protected]

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