In the decade pre-COVID it was increasingly clear that tourism leaders were beginning to recognise the importance of quality as an essential component in all aspects of tourism service and experience delivery at the destination level. This was reflected in the growth of interest in applying high quality design to physical spaces and in the architecture of hotels and visitor centres. Some observers were of the view that it was getting difficult to discuss tourism without discussing architecture. It was becoming a commodity for tourists’ consumption, it was a destination’s cultural capital and enhanced sense of place.
Across the exemplar destinations there was an obvious trend towards the encouragement of investment and the patronage of star-architects producing exciting, innovative, architecture and quality visual interventions as a means of enhancing the overall visitor experience. The obvious indicator of this was the ‘Gehry effect’ as evidenced in the Basque Country. Bilbao has embraced leading architects in many one form or another to acclaimed success since the city first invited Gehry to design the city’s Guggenheim in 1993. San Sebastian, the Basque Country’s centre for gastronomy and film has followed suit. South of Bilbao, in Elciego, the Marqués de Riscal Winery has created the City of Wine by Gehry with the chairman of the company stating that the €66m investment far exceeded their expectations taking 'no place' to a world class, competitive destination.
In ‘Architecture Attracts Visitors’ by Pla’tou (the Platform for Architecture in Tourism established in Austria in 2007) to promote: “The topics of architecture, culture of construction and design are capturing the attention of the public” asserts that: “the innovative potential which lies within contemporary architecture is still hardly used in the tourism industry”. Their research showed that success and enhanced profitability were directly correlated to the use of contemporary architecture. Copenhagen, Aarhus, Oslo, Liverpool, Zurich, Bilbao, Barcelona, Montpellier, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Chicago, Denver, Singapore, Melbourne are taking full advantage of these opportunities.
In rural destinations there are two outstanding examples of destinations where contemporary architecture is now driving tourism. In Bregenzerwald (Austria) a rural area with a once flagging agricultural economy has developed a global reputation as a world class destination by using the power of architecture. In the second example, is the story of Norway's tourist routes (Gustavsen, 2016), which started in 1994 as a trial project to offer motorists an alternative to main roads that gave them access to stunning architecture along their routes. There are now 18 National Tourism Routes (NTR) in Norway, all of which will be completed by 2025. Running along the coast and fjords, through countryside and mountains the routes offer world-class scenery and architectural installations.