As we look at ways to achieve a sustainable future for tourism, we should ask what tourism can do to support a sustainable future. How can we redesign our industry to fit the changing world we will live in? And how can we adapt to the cultures of the communities we visit?
1) How do we redesign tourism to support our changing relationship with distance?
What do you miss most? Weeks spent on video calls has made everyone just as accessible, so long as they have an internet connection. But lockdown means everyone is out of reach, however far away they are. As parts of the world start to open up again, and we are allowed to go short distances from our homes, will this create more appreciation for what is on our doorstep, or a greater yearning to explore further?
Domestic tourism will open up first. But as places further afield become technically available, will we rush to them, or be less enthralled? For decades tourism’s story has been about selling the dream of distance – the lure of the exotic, far away place. Are we about to enter a new phase where we cherish what is nearest, and held most dear?
2) How do we redesign tourism to support our changing relationship with cities?
The ‘bustling market’ was for long the most overused of tourist cliches. Will it now be something to avoid, rather than seek out? Cities are reclaiming their own streets, widening pavements, creating bike lanes and walkways while removing on street parking. People resented overtourism a couple of years ago. How will they perceive large groups of foreigners now?
3) How do we redesign tourism to support our changing relationship with work?
Is the era of the office over? For people who can work anywhere, will they always work at home? Is this the dawn of the digital nomad? Will people leave the city in their millions, seeking the peace and space of the countryside?
If workers leave the cities for the countryside, how do rural areas change? How do cities change as a result? And what impact does all this have on how and where we go on holiday?
Will the five day week remain the norm, or will shifts to shorter, more flexible working accelerate? How might that change the dynamics of our holiday choices?
4) How do we redesign tourism to support our changing relationship with money?
How will a reduction in disposable income change tourism? What happens if flights become considerably more expensive, and perhaps hotels too, if their capacity has reduced?
After several months with reduced opportunities to spend and more time at home, will people choose to work doubly hard and spend the rewards on expensive holidays, or seek out the simpler pleasures of a slower, simpler life?
5) How do we redesign tourism to support our reconnection with nature?
In the boiled frog experiment you slowly turn up the heat and the poor animal doesn’t notice the change. Over the decades the ever-increasing noise of modern life and its pollutants erased birdsong and mountain views from our lives. Over the last few weeks they have reappeared. But as the noise and pollution returns, will we accept the loss of nature for a second time? Or can tourism help preserve these connections?
6) How do we redesign tourism to support communities who became over reliant on it?
Tourism has long touted its contribution to GDP as a mark of its importance. For countries such as the Maldives where tourism accounts for more than a third of its income, its removal is all the more devastating. Where communities have no alternative income sources to fall back upon, they suffer unimaginably. Compare this to places where tourism has been developed as a supplementary source of income. Will they be more resilient? Will those communities less reliant on tourism be more ready to welcome it back?
7) How do we redesign tourism to support communities reliant on long haul?
Most tourism will restart domestically, and then expand further afield. There may of course be exceptions to this – where citizens from countries such as New Zealand are welcome across the world by other countries that have also managed to contain low outbreaks. But as a rule, it will be harder, in particular for countries who relied on high spending inbound guests from wealthier economies, especially where such tourism is essential to finance conservation. Should support be prioritised for these countries?
8) How do we redesign tourism to support everyone?
What impact will the measures being put in place to respond to concerns over infection have on guests with accessibility needs? As we redesign our infrastructure and procedures to separate and protect everyone, how can we ensure they don’t further marginalise and exclude specific groups?
9) How do we redesign tourism to support our ability to face disasters still to come?
Since the beginning of March, Vanuatu has been hit by tropical storm Harold. Devastating locust storms are ravaging Kenya and east Africa. There are fears that this will be one of “the most active hurricane seasons on record.”
The response to the COVID-19 crisis has seen countless examples of solidarity and repurposing across our industry to support the communities where we operate. Will these acts be forgotten once the focus is on opening back up, or will we find space to learn from them to improve our preparedness for whatever comes next?
10) How do we redesign tourism to support our ability to address the climate emergency?
Take all of the above, and add in the climate emergency. What impact will that have on how you would answer each of these questions? This month saw the highest ever greenhouse gas concentration in history. 2020 is already set to be the hottest year on record.
As we reimagine our industry for 2021 and the years following, we have to do it while supporting a halving of global emissions by 2030. How we answer these questions will do much to define our chances of success.