Will COVID-19 change the face of tourism?

The entire world has come to a screeching halt as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps no other industry has been more affected than the international travel industry. Even if you desperately wanted to, at this very point in time travel is all but impossible. And that affects everybody. Everybody travels. And that means more than fun and good times for all. Travel has serious impacts on local communities. Think of terms such as over-tourism and Disneyfication.

In the light of current events local communities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice experience a temporary “relief” of tourism. Locals welcome the peace and quiet this brings, but does this work as a longterm strategy? At some point in the near future the local communities will start to feel the economic impact of a lack of tourists.

Will COVID-19 change the face of tourism, or will things simply go back to how they were before corona went viral?

COVID-19 & tourism: the facts

To answer that question I would really need a good, working crystal ball. And to be honest, my crystal ball probably needs eye surgery because it seems to be blind as a bat under the current circumstances. So rather than trying to stare into the abyss there where our future once used to be, perhaps looking at the past can help. Let’s look at a few undeniable facts from the past.

FACT: Human-beings are creatures of habit

This is not something new. It is probably the oldest known truth about our species. Look at the futility of the Black Lives Matter movement, a concurrent force during this pandemic. As John Blake at CNN pointed out we do not really seem to learn from the past. Although there is hope still, the risk is real that when the rage is over we are happy to go back to sticking our head in the sand. We like the road of least resistance and feel most comfortable when we continue doing what we have always been doing.

FACT: Tourism makes people feel comfortable

There are very few people that specifically seek discomfort during their travels, except for perhaps bungee jumpers. People around the world are itching to start traveling again, the moment countries decide to open their borders.

In one way or another, tourism is meant to make people comfortable. This will not change post-COVID.
In one way or another, tourism is meant to make people comfortable. This will not change post-COVID.

FACT: No change without economic incentive

It simply doesn’t make good (short term) business sense to get a lower than optimal return on investment. A handful of political parties in The Netherlands seized the opportunity and proposed a minimum air ticket price of EUR 34 for all flights. The cause of over-tourism in cities like Amsterdam is partially linked to cheap air ticket prices. The rapid spread of COVID-19 is partially linked to the enormous amount of air travel. And then there is the climate impact.

A simple minimum price for air tickets could potentially slightly lower the number of flights and thus the impact of over-tourism, pandemics and climate change. A “multiple birds with one stone” scenario.

Yet airlines liked easyJet and TUI are against the plan. Makes sense. Who would pay EUR 34 to fly with easyJet? Wait, what! EUR 34. 34! For budget airlines this is a business model-altering proposal. A minimum price would mean (slightly) less travellers thus a lower return on investment. So unless it makes economic sense, nothing will change.

Conclusion

The longer this whole COVID-19 situation takes, the higher the chance of a change. This is a time to come up with solutions to tourism challenges. This is the time to focus on sustainability. We can all participate. The only requirement is that we don’t put immediate economic gain first.

This is the time for creativity and solutions.

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