A return of the world to the good old
pre-pandemic times is not possible, especially for global tourism. Quality, satisfaction
and benefits for all stakeholders involved need to become the guideposts for
the tourism development in the 2020s.
The world developed economically at an ever-growing speed in last 30 years without a parallel growth of political
institutions managing globalization – the climate catastrophe, rise of despotism
and the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands have been the result.
Global tourism spending even outpaced
global GDP growth, but likewise no regulatory body emerged to define and enforce
limits to the acquisition of public goods like beaches and city centers, to look
after the “carrying capacity” of nature and host communities or to fight the
two elephants in the room of the tourism industry: seasonality and sub-standard
In 2018 and 2019 already a debate under the
headline of “overtourism” developed as a result of growing resistance of host
communities. During the pandemic, a plethora of discussions evolved about the necessity
of a “new” tourism, of adherence to sustainable development goals and of the
need of the tourists to finally start to behave in a more sustainable and
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With the restart of international tourism
in the past weeks, not much seems to be left of all these debates. Return
tickets from Hamburg to Palma de Mallorca are on offer for less than €50,
citizens of Barcelona complain that Las Ramblas are fuller than ever with
tourists, even the cruise ships started again to spew out 5,000 short-time visitors
onto hapless cities and islands.
It helps little to give schoolmasterly
commands to tourists to put the interests of the host communities and the environment
before their own interests. It also does not help to speculate how many percent
increase in prices customer would agree to pay for a “greener” tourism product
if the customers are not offered more than a better consciousness for their
In almost all of the many recently published
studies and strategy papers for the post-pandemic tourism development, the elephants
in the room continue to be ignored: The one-size-fits-all approach of many destinations
that results in pronounced levels of seasonality and staff shortages.
Tourism source markets and the demands and
interests of market segments is more segmented than ever, with travelers searching for experience and immersion.
The need for relaxation is not the
key purpose of leisure tourism anymore. Travelers are increasingly belonging to the 50-plus
age cohorts and increasingly having a non-Western cultural background.
It helps little to give schoolmasterly commands to tourists to put the interests of the host communities and the environment before their own interests.
Wolfgang Georg Alrt
Car factories produce, with the help of artificial
intelligence and robots, vehicles with each having a different configuration
according to the wishes of the customer. Dell started decades ago to offer
bespoken PCs. In tourism, the decision of Vancouver Island Tourism Board to morph
into a “social enterprise created to ensure that travel is a force for good” called
4VI can still be considered as an avant-garde move. The insight of the
president of the Greek Tourism Confederation SETE that “Happy residents bring
happy tourists” is still counteracted in many destinations by all-inclusive
beach resorts that prevent any contacts with the wider destination. Even the 4VI
and SETE leaders still speak of the need to “balance” the interests of guests
and hosts, as if they were enemies, instead of supporting ways to align them as
well as the other stakeholders in a benefits-for-all situation.
Having huge numbers of customers buying all
the same product is mostly in the interest of tour operators. Airlines, hotels
and restaurants do not mind much why travelers fly to and stay in a destination.
Attractions, mobility companies and retailers will even prefer a greater
diversity of visitors.
For most tour operators, “niche” remains a
dirty word, but for the rest of the industry it will become, in the guises of
“special interest” and “international source market,” the answer to the
question how to kill the elephant of seasonality. Using all part of a country
and all seasons of a year for touristic offers is possible almost anywhere and
anytime, if it is based on the identification of the right global market
segment and the right product adaptation, which in many cases will include the participation
of local people.
Tour operators are losing importance within
the tourism industry thanks to increasingly experienced and internet-enabled
individual travelers. In a recent survey, only 7% of Chinese travelers, for
example, identified traveling in package tour groups as their preference.
The tourism industry will have to catch up
to other industries to become a part of what Pine & Gilmore
described 20 years ago as the “Experience Economy.” Sustainable tourism, responsible
tourism and restorative tourism will all be necessary elements of that
development in the 2020s, but will not be enough.
Enter “Meaningful Tourism” - a paradigm
that is based on a return to quality, satisfaction and benefits for all
stakeholders involved, namely the guests, the host communities, the employees
of service providers, the companies, the government and the environment, with quality
and satisfaction measured by the stakeholders
Guests who are provided with exactly what
they wanted, and even a bit of what they did not know they wanted, will turn
into product ambassadors, offering free recommendation marketing instead of
expensive and decreasingly efficient social media marketing.
Host communities will see the advantages of
receiving visitors interesting to interact with, employees will value better
pay and year-round jobs with the possibility to feel as hosts rather than
servants. Companies will be able to ask for higher prices against perceived
better quality, will be able to use their resources year-round and can retain
and train their staff. Governments will receive more taxes and will be able to
use tourism as a regional development tool.
With a feeling of belonging in the sense of
a kinship economy, guests and hosts alike can be expected to treat the natural
environment with more care.
Putting up signs of “Verboten!” and flygskam
campaigns will not change the behavior of the majority of tourists. Doing
something good for the environment will not convince customers to pay
substantially more money for the same service. Traveling is a human right, not
a privilege, so pricing and taxing the bottom half out of the market is not an
Distinguishable benefits are necessary to
complete the Meaningful Tourism approach as the key element to change the
attitude and perception of all stakeholders involved. The discussion about “experience
economy” has moved further from staged experiences to co-creative experiences
and further to transformative experiences. For the global tourism industry there
is still a long way to go.
About the author...
Wolfgang Georg Arlt
is CEO of COTRI (China Outbound Tourism Research Institute) and
director of the Meaningful Tourism Center.