Building Back Tourism After COVID: Opportunity Awaits
In building back tourism, we need a new vision that redefines success beyond traditional growth metrics.
The Industry before the Pandemic
Before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, the travel, tourism, and hospitality (TTH) was responsible for more than 10 per cent of the global GDP and one in every 10 jobs worldwide, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). It was also one of the fastest-growing fields, accounting for one in four new jobs created over the previous five years.
Tourism is an important component of the consumption model of modern man. It meets the needs of spending free time, contact with the environment, recreation, and rest.
For tourism businesses, tourism is an idea for providing services, a way of earning money, and a place of work.
Meanwhile, although tourism is a sea of opportunity, it also poses certain threats to the environment. Thus, it must be regulated to a certain extent.
A Glance into the COVID-affected Industry
The pandemic changed all that, at least temporarily. Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020. International arrivals dropped by 74% according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.
This collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of USD 1.3 trillion in export revenues - more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.
While COVID-19 has caused significant disruption, we can't deny that the TTH industry is proven resilient. It always bounce back stronger following previous downturns, such as those caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 economic crash.
In line with this, and given the obvious importance of tourism for the economy, some questions arise and need to be answered in the future.
Will it be possible to rebuild the global tourism industry and when?
Will the industry face structural and qualitative changes?
What changes can be expected?
Transitioning Pre- and Post-pandemic
The future of tourism is also connected to the problems that we know before the pandemic and which would surely make themselves felt. For example, the environmental effect of long-distance travel, especially by air.
Another pre-pandemic problem that may wake up again is over-tourism. That is, excessively frequent and numerous visits to famous tourist destinations; some most notable examples include the cities of Venice and Barcelona.
Moreover, other trends such as the search for transformational experiences or the rising popularity of bleisure (the combination of the English words “business” and “leisure”) are likely to play an important role in the post-pandemic tourism context.
Building Back Tourism: A Bright and Hopeful Future Awaits
Despite the recent tumult—and in many ways because of it—experts say the industry is now accelerating some of its longstanding priorities in the areas of sustainability, efficiency, innovation, and technology. So, what could tourism after the pandemic look like?
1. Rising Appreciation and Need for Wellness Tourism
The COVID-19 vaccination programmes have led to a glimmer of hope that some of the things we used to enjoy may soon be part of our lives once again. And high on many people’s priority lists will be to travel. Thus, countries declaration of normality was quickly followed by a surge in online bookings for flights and holidays, for instance in the UK.
This is good news both for countries that depend on tourism and people who are desperate to get away. Importantly, it is also a step towards an end to the uncertainty and isolation that in 2020 led to warnings of a global mental health crisis.
The pandemic raised awareness of the importance of “wellness” – a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing – in people’s lives. The travel side of this, “wellness tourism”, was worth US$639 billion globally in 2017. This figure is expected to increase to US$919 billion by 2022. And while wellness tourism was growing rapidly before COVID-19 struck, there was a reported growth in internet searches last year about travel to “wellness destinations”.
The pandemic made many people aware that they must act preventively and invest in their health and well-being. This is why wellness will most definitely be an important part of post-pandemic tourism.
2. Renewed Focus on Sustainability
Many hospitality organisations have introduced more sustainable practices pre-pandemic, however, this has remained challenging for large parts of the sector. Before the pandemic, the industry was moving at a quick pace. Tourism was growing exponentially every year that there was no time to focus on reducing energy consumption. We should have been operating smartly and efficiently. Yet, many in the industry were just operating as fast as they could with the priority of making sales. Now, businesses need to buckle their belts and cut costs since the sales are no longer there, and there is more time to look at details in the operation.
Because of the pandemic crisis, smaller players have exited the marketplace or are absorbed by bigger players. Some companies have used available government funding to retool, renovate, and get their properties ready to come back once the market has reopened. In a sense, the industry is righting itself. Renovations take place left and right; facilities that have been closed are taking the time to renovate and become more efficient.
Change in Customer Preference
Further, there is a change in consumer behaviour recently, even before COVID. And expect it to increase. Guests know what they want from a business: to be sustainable and environmentally responsible. And they support businesses that go that route. They now generally want to stay and host their events at green facilities. This also goes for minimising food waste, consumption of water, use of soap and chemicals, and choosing local produce and supplies.
The industry, being consumer-driven, have started to fully embrace corporate social responsibility initiatives. New buildings are incorporating sustainable practices.
In building back tourism, tourism and hospitality brands should seize the opportunity to evolve and become more conscientious to attract people who understand why they need to pay extra for a specific initiative that’s sustainable and more mindful of long-term impact.
3. Increase in Domestic Travel
In post-pandemic tourism, domestic travel will recover relatively early. It will initially start at local experiences, particularly day trips and weekend programs, as well as business trips to key customers and suppliers. Visitors’ attractions and experiences will play a key role in this early phase, contributing to building trust.
Customers who previously chose to vacation abroad might instead choose to vacation at home and this will be an opportunity to win new domestic demand in the tourism sector after the pandemic.
On this note, the current preference for this sector raises the question of whether it will become a long-term trend and in which countries have growth potential in this aspect.
3. Power of Technology and Human Touch
The pandemic expedited the industry’s move to contactless interactions—from hotel check-in to food order to booking and boarding flights. COVID is reorganising the industry, and it shall emerge stronger, leaner, and more technologically savvy.
Yet that doesn’t mean the field will lose its human aspect. Hospitality, after all, will always be a human interaction-driven industry, although the pandemic has changed the preferences and tastes of the consumer. Technology will be important, but hospitality brands should certainly keep that high-touch focus at the forefront. Being high-tech is just one side of the coin.
To build loyalty with customers, businesses have to make sure that they customise their experience based on the customers’ needs and preferences to create meaningful relationships for years to come.
4. Retraining of the Workforce
Personnel must also keep pace with these changes. The travel and tourism workforce requires some re-skilling in light of innovations occurring throughout the industry. Hospitality companies also need to amp up efforts to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool. Educate the staff on those efforts as well as encourage them to suggest innovations.
For instance, the sector has been training staff to implement contactless service and heightened hygiene measures. This ranges from sophisticated room cleaning approaches to and other protocols that build consumer confidence while protecting customer and employee safety. Employees are taught how to take guests’ temperatures or how to manage visitors who refuse to comply with health-related policies. Other venues have also introduced robots and other advanced technology to aid in the disinfecting process.
Building Back Tourism Better
Tourism was certainly not without its problems before the pandemic. So in tourism, as elsewhere, the call has been to “build back better”.
Businesses are in survival mode right now. But when restrictions are lifted and demand for travel returns, it will be an opportunity to manage future growth and reshape tourism in a more balanced way.
To do this, tourism needs a new vision that redefines success beyond traditional growth metrics. Together, let’s take stock of the human cost of the pandemic on those in the sector, and resolve to grow tourism again, but differently so that it can deliver on its promise to be a force for good.