As we enter into an adjustment phase of our changing world, the opportunity for travel to be a force for good is greater than ever. But the impact of Covid on Tourism is undoubtedly complex.
On the one hand, destinations without tourism have seen environmental improvements; global carbon emissions are down and the developed world has shifted from over-tourism to under-tourism. Equally, critical funding for conservation has been decimated meaning that the illegal wildlife trade and deforestation have dramatically increased.
Depending on where, when and how travel restrictions are lifted, international tourist numbers could fall between 60 and 80% this year. The World Travel & Tourism Council’s baseline scenario is that 121 million jobs could be lost as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.
As we look ahead, the global tourism decline has already taken a toll on national economies. Without a strong and vital tourism sector, many millions of jobs and the wellbeing of communities all around the world are at risk. A world without tourism has put the spotlight on the fact that the world needs tourism.
But as the sector re-emerges, we must not forget the challenges of the pre-Covid world with local communities feeling increasingly alienated from the benefits of tourism, as well as the pressures of climate change and tourism’s contribution to it. The world needs well-managed and responsible tourism, which is inclusive of and benefits host communities, while also protecting a destination’s cultural and natural heritage.
There is no doubt lockdown has resulted in a pent-up demand for travel, and ‘Super Saturday’ on 27th June resulted in the biggest day of sales ever recorded with a 229% year on year increase in global flight bookings for 2021. However, the pandemic, coupled with lockdown, has left many of us changed. We are more connected to our local community and the power of local networks. We desire space, outdoor adventure and relaxation; we need safety and security; we want proximity to our loved ones.
Additionally, as compassion continues to weigh on our collective social consciousness, travellers are looking to interact with local communities in the destinations they visit, contribute to the conservation of natural resources and support local enterprises. Consumer research tells us that responsible travel is a trend that is here to stay. Booking.com cites that 70% of consumers would be more likely to book a sustainable hotel while Skift reports that 73% of Gen-Z travellers agree it’s important to choose travel companies that prioritise environmentally sustainable practices.
The sector is well positioned to integrate the need for sustainable livelihoods in many places around the world with the growing desire for a ‘slower’ more connected approach to travel. What is more, the reality is that the immediate recovery will be driven by local and regional travel. The line between ‘visitor’ and ‘visited’ is increasingly blurred.
In this context, the opportunity for the travel and tourism industry is huge. Destinations and brands can foster these positive connections in a number of ways, ensuring that in a post-Covid world tourism really is a force for good.
First, by involving local people in decisions which affect their lives. Tourism has the potential to enhance the wellbeing of host communities, improve relationships between visitors and hosts, and build local pride of place. This invitation from locals welcoming travellers to experience their communities is more important and cherished than ever before.
Secondly, by showcasing opportunities for ‘slow travel’ through education and compelling storytelling. Providing information on local products, experiences and attractions will encourage carefully considered travel decisions and fulfil consumer demand for responsible options which connect travellers to a place and its people.
Thirdly, by focusing on the long-term. While the immediate priority will be to open up and welcome tourists back, the long-term social and environmental benefits need to be central to future strategies. Re-growth will only be sustainable and resilient if it is genuinely inclusive.
As destination stewards, it is our responsibility to create a delicate balance in messaging to both entice and educate travellers, empowering them to make more conscious and positively impactful travel decisions.
We can do this by sharing stories which track the progressive social impact achieved by destinations. Schemes to protect wildlife or stimulate local products such as food, crafts or experiences and initiatives to spread demand across seasons and to off-the-beaten-track destinations are all being implemented by the public and private sectors and should be highlighted. This type of storytelling has a tri-fold effect: it reflects the current traveller attitude and expectations, drives connection through content and builds consumer confidence.
It is well documented that immersing ourselves in a different way of life and exposing ourselves to new cultures encourages personal growth and develops our empathy and compassion for others. There is no doubt that travel is a huge driver of human understanding. Managed the right way, tourism has, now more than ever, the opportunity to provide tangible long-term benefits for locals and visitors alike.