Intellectual Property and Tourism

Do you own a hotel or restaurant or run a car rental company or travel agency? Do you work for a museum, organize cultural festivals or supply services and goods for tourists? If you are involved in the tourism sector in any way, then the intellectual property (IP) system – such as trademarks, geographical indications, copyright, designs or patents – may be helpful for:

  • creating a distinctive identity in the market;
  • protecting your competitive advantage;
  • promoting national culture and heritage; or
  • adding a revenue stream that would otherwise have not been possible.

Video: How to Boost Tourism Development with Intellectual Property

Projects on IP and Tourism

Boosting tourism development

A report published jointly by WIPO and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows how the IP system creates a favorable ecosystem for innovation, entrepreneurship and investment in the sector.

Download report

IP and gastronomic tourism

The  project on IP and gastronomic tourism aims to promote the use of intellectual property in culinary traditions (food and beverages) for application in the tourism sector.

Creating a distinctive identity

Creating a distinctive presence in the market is not only of interest to individual businesses. Cities, regions and even countries may rely on the IP system to create a unique identity. Recent efforts to brand places also known as “destination branding” is an example of efforts by cities or regions to create a distinctive appeal that will resonate amongst visitors and they have done so by relying on a trademark, whether by virtue of a registered logo or tagline.

St. Moritz – Top of the World

The Swiss mountain resort St Moritz was one of the first to register the name “St Moritz” and the tag line “Top of the World”, not only in Switzerland but also in the Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market, the Trademark Office of the European Community.

Kerala – Gods Own Country

Similarly “Kerala – Gods Own Country” has been registered as a trademark in India.

Tri-valley California

Tri-valley California trademark is owned by the Tri-Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau representing the region which comprises three adjacent valleys.

I love NY

“I love NY” has succeeded in capturing the hearts and minds of millions who see New York through this logo as a vivacious, lively and dynamic city with something for all.

Certificate trademarks

Certificate trademarks, that “certify” that the user of the trademark complies with certain stipulated criteria, are also popular in the tourism industry where many small businesses can acquire a certain distinctiveness and visibility through the application of such marks.  There are a number of profit or not for profit authorities that lend their logos to enterprises in the tourism sector, certifying that they have complied with such criteria as are important for tourists. The Green Globe Certification, a global “eco-tourism label” that promotes sustainable tourism, is one such example.

Collective marks

Collective marks are another way in which small businesses have gained in visibility and reputation. “Logis de France” is a registered trademark of the Fédération Nationale des Logis de France, which is an association of independent hoteliers bound together with the objective of promoting privately owned hotels in a rural setting grouped under the same label.

The concept is to experience a rural establishment of a certain quality which is in harmony with the local environment and serving local food. By attaching a label and by enforcing strict compliance of the criteria that the hotels need to adhere to they have not only prevented the abandonment of the rural areas but have created a new product with added value.

Today there are over 3000 hotels that are members of this association and they have expanded into several outside France. The hotels are also classified by category as well as by themes. If not for the now widely recognized and respected trademark these individual establishments would not be able to effectively compete in the highly competitive service market. These individual hotels would not be known and thus not sought after.

Belonging to the association ensures recognition and appeal.

Other IP rights

For creating a distinctive identity, other IP rights apart from trademarks can also be useful. Tourism companies can also look to design rights and copyright to protect their logos. Design rights, though traditionally used to protect the shape and form of industrial goods, have – through their applicability to two dimensional products such as textiles – made them useful also for protecting logos . Similarly, given that a logo is often a work of artistic creation, copyright may also be usefully relied upon for protecting logos.

Protecting competitive advantage

Having created a distinctive identity that makes it identifiable to its customers – an essential prerequisite for product loyalty – companies need to protect and secure that identity from imitators and free riders. They must equally protect their competitive advantage.

Whatever it is that gives a company it's competitive advantage should be held securely and protected. What is it that makes it competitive? It may be a particular way it does its business, the type of customers, the customer preferences that it caters to, the suppliers, the pricing systems, discount systems, plans and strategies, research data are all information that allows it to compete more effectively and if exploited by competitors its advantage would be lost. These are all types of confidential information and could under certain conditions be protected as trade secrets.

It may be using a number of different avenues to communicate in the marketplace. Here we are referring to promotional material, guidebooks, leaflets, advertisements etc., which are creative products and are protectable under copyright. Their unauthorized use by others could cause harm to the reputation and image of the company. Further, many of these different rights and copyright in particular would become relevant in the context of websites which most companies today, and companies in the tourism sector are no exception, would be relying on.

Similarly, booking and reservations systems and other such solutions through information technology may be protected by trade secrets, copyright or patents or a combination of these rights, depending on the national law of the country.

Creating additional revenue streams

Agricultural products that have gained wide name recognition through the use of collective marks, certification marks or sui generis rights such as geographical indications (that usually denotes that the product emanated from a certain geographical region and have certain characteristics linked to that region) have given rise to a fast growing agri-tourism industry. Earliest and best examples of such tourism are built around the wine industry.

A leading geographical indication (known as an appellation of origin) in the field of wine is Bordeaux, a region of France. Around Bordeaux wine, a number of industries have arisen to cater to wine lovers who can now enjoy tours to see how wine is produced, stay in wineries, engage in wine tasting, participate in wine festivals, or simply enjoy walking and biking around vineyards.

Napa valley in California, USA is another interesting example of leveraging the name Napa Valley and its link to quality wine and food to create a brand that would appeal by their own admission not to the mass market but that the “ …consumer will be one that has discovered in themselves an appreciation of premium food & wine, understands & respects our destination’s values, and helps to ensure the sustainability of the unique sense of place that is the Napa Valley through their tourism experience.”

Similarly the Barossa region in south Australia has leveraged the geographical indication of Barossa made famous by the wines produced in that region to make its region an attractive destination for tourists interested in wine, food and the joie de vivre that goes with it.

Licensing of IP rights

The owner of a trademark, collective mark, certification mark, design right, copyright, etc., may, apart from using these rights to create name recognition or protect its competitive advantage from imitators, use these rights to create additional revenue streams by giving interested third parties the right to use these rights against a fee (or even free-of-charge). This practice is known as licensing of IP rights (franchising and merchandising are also kinds of IP licensing) and is at the core of a substantial and growing practice in the tourism sector.

The right to use the registered trademark “St. Moritz, top of the world” referred to earlier has been widely granted to businesses, ensuring a steady and additional revenue stream to the St. Moritz tourism board. One of the licensees is “Fashion Box”, a clothing company which carries St Moritz as one of its brand labels for its clothing.

(Image: Getty/z_wei)


Franchising is when an owner of a business gives another the right to run the same business model applying the trademark and other relevant intellectual properties that are integral to that business. Usually, businesses that are franchised have a business model that lends itself to being replicated and has built a strong name recognition allowing the franchisees to have a head start while going into business for themselves.

This is one of the fastest growing industries and is of great relevance to the tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants, and other services such as transport, cleaning, management are often franchised businesses. A leading name in the hotel industry, Hilton, is a franchised business. In other words, the Hilton in a particular location is owned by an independent entity who is entitled to use the trademark Hilton and all other relevant intellectual properties as well as the whole business model of running that hotel.


Merchandising, which is also a specialized form of IP licensing, is when an owner of an IP right, generally a trademark, industrial design or copyright, gives another the right to apply that mark, industrial design or copyright, usually on ordinary consumer goods to enhance the appeal of those goods. This provides an avenue to the owner of the right to obtain additional revenue from his right and gives the licensee the possibility of enhancing the value and thus the likelihood of sale and of higher price of his goods to gain more revenue and profits.

Most souvenirs that are available for purchase by tourists, whether it is models of the Eiffel tower,  t-shirts with a particular slogan that is a registered trademark or mugs bearing Maori designs, have (or should have) obtained the right to apply the image or slogan and pays a royalty for that right.

Here we see how the appeal of a particular “core product” translates into economic gains to various players in the tourism industry through the creative use of the tools of the IP system to build new business models in partnership with other producers.

The core product in the tourism sector (that which is the object of the visit) – whether it is nature, therapeutic, religious, ecology, food or wine – may be well suited for branding through the use of trademarks, designs, copyright and GIs.

However, while the “core product’ may be the focus and object of the visit, the total experience depends on a whole host of other services that nurture and/or package the “core product” and are in turn nurtured or packaged by the core product. They are, therefore, interdependent and as such integral to the success of the tourism industry. Here we speak of the support services such as hotels, restaurants, transport, shops, hospitals, interpretation, guides all of which contribute towards the total quality and experience of the “Product.”

It is important to also keep in mind that, just as much as the IP system is a resource for businesses to compete effectively, failure to respect the IP rights of others could be costly. As such, when picking a trademark it is important to not take a sign already owned by another, when using material to not use the materials of others and likewise to not illegally access the confidential information of other businesses.