UNWTO does not provide a system on how to classify tourism products because of the notion that a “tourism product” is not the same “product” being referred to in economics. There is also no widely accepted way to characterize tourism products up to today hence, Bob McKercher came up with his proposed tourism product taxonomy.
According to him, a product is defined in its broadest sense as the activities, attractions and interests consumed by tourists in a destination that satisfy their needs (McKercher, 2015). According to him, the taxonomy of tourism products can be compared to the taxonomy of organisms, entities and things in a hierarchical scheme. It involves coming up with a wide-ranging list of tourism products by surveying various academic papers, media, travel and tour organization sites and all other sources which can provide the needed data. Then catalog all these information according to product line, classes and families. After cataloging, the tourism products have to be identified according to need families, product families and product classes using a top-down approach. And lastly, validate the same against the taxonomy. The purpose of the tourism product taxonomy is to add structure to the space of tourism which appears to be chaotic and undifferentiated with each other (Tweed, 2005).
Having established the concept of what a tourism product is, what tourism taxonomy is and its purpose, let’s apply the same taxonomy principles in the case of the Philippines. The Department of Tourism provides the following as the Philippines’ product portfolio:
- Nature Tourism
- Cultural Tourism
- Sun and Beach Tourism
- Leisure and Entertainment Tourism
- MICE and Events Tourism
- Health, Wellness and Retirement Tourism
- Cruise and Nautical Tourism
- Diving and Marine Sports Tourism
- Education Tourism
A product portfolio is a compilation of products or services that is offered to a target market. It may comprise the different product categories, different product lines and the individual product itself (Bhasin, 2020). Generally, the product portfolio provided by DOT can be the Product Family in the product hierarchy as adopted by McKercher. The Product Family occupies the second tier of the taxonomy, the upper tier being the Need Family. Below Product Family will be the 3rd tier which is Product Class. However, not all of the product portfolio can be in the same tier. Others can be merged into one while others can stay in another tier. McKercher proposed a 6-tier product taxonomy as follows (1 being the top tier and 6 the lowest tier):
- Need Family
- Product Family
- Product Class
- Product Line
- Product Type
A tourism product can be grouped under one of the types of the Need Family as follows: Pleasure, Personal Quest, Understanding Human Endeavors, Nature and Business. “The Need Family represents the core being satisfied, while recognizing the range and mix of motives that drive the desire to have these needs satisfied can widely vary.” (McKercher, 2015). Of course there are limitations to his concept but let it be as it may.
Let’s illustrate for clearer understanding. The Philippines is known for its beautiful beaches that lure both local and foreign tourists alike hence, the sun and beach tourism as part of the product portfolio as identified by the Department of Tourism. So we ask the question, to which Need Family should we fit-in sun and beach tourism? It can be Pleasure because it can be leisure and recreation. It can also be under Personal Quest because it can be a wellness and learning experience. It can also be Human Endeavor because it can be for creative reasons, say arts and performance on the beach. It can also be Nature because it can be an aquatic and aerial adventure. And it can also be business because meetings, events and conventions can be done in a beach destination. Now we have a problem doing the hierarchy at this tier. What McKercher is suggesting in such a case is to classify a product to its dominant purpose. Since it is a beach, the dominant purpose is leisure and recreation. But then again, there may be other purposes which a tourist can do or consume while in a beach destination. I supposed that in doing this, we have to arrive at the bottom tier which is the Item. We can do the taxonomy upwards. Getting the most details at the lowest tier will give us better room to understand product taxonomy. One specific tourism product say for example is the activity called “banana boating.” Here, banana boating is the Item (Tier 6); the Product Type is water activity (Tier 5); the Product Line is facility-based activity (Tier 4); the Product Class is adventure (Tier 3). The Product Family is Recreation (Tier 2) and the Need Family is Pleasure (Tier 1). The same product taxonomy will also apply to the following examples: paragliding, wall climbing, rappelling, boating, snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing, zip-lining, ATV ride, hot air balloon ride, motocross, cycling, and car racing, among many other activities.
Another example we will expound is Nature Tourism. One specific tourism product we will identify its taxonomy is spelunking (Tier 6). Its Product Type can be outdoor activity (Tier 5) and the Product Line is adventure (Tier 4). Its Product Class is Ecotourism (Tier 3) and its Product Family is Natural Area and Wildlife Appreciation and Learning (Tier 2). Its Need Family is Nature (Tier 1). For MICE and Events, we will take “15th National Convention of Tourism Students” as an example (Tier 6). Its Product Type is indoor conference (Tier 5) while its Product Line is student’s conference (Tier 4). Its Product Class is conference (Tier 3) and Product Family is conventions and seminars. Its Need Family is Business (Tier 1).
By no means the products listed here are complete nor representative of every Product Family. As McKercher explained, there will always be limitations in doing tourism product taxonomy.
Why then should we do tourism product taxonomy if there is still no agreed and well-defined parameter? We need to do it because product taxonomy improves the data collection process for us to create a reliable product database. This is so to maximize product presentation and consumption by both suppliers and consumers (Leher, 2016). In the case of the Philippines, product taxonomy will help DMOs and stakeholders improve tourism products and strengthen the Filipino brand of service.