WTM Virtual’s Responsible Tourism Programme on Tuesday November 10 started with the issue dominating everyone’s minds, Covid. Inge Huijbrechts, Global Senior Vice President Responsible Business and Safety & Security at Radisson Hotels captured the essence of the challenge facing the industry:
“to make sure that we could give that reassurance to our clients that we are actually doing what we are saying we’re doing.”
The panel included representatives of two destinations, Barcelona and Cornwall. Malcom Bell, CEO and Marketing Director, Visit Cornwall explained that the county had been the first tourism board in the UK to ask people not to come, even before the first lockdown.
Throughout the summer, between the first and second lockdowns, he said beaches had never been so busy, and the crises had created other challenges – dealing with litter, overcrowding and people who were unaccustomed to the region taking undue risks around the coastline.
Meanwhile, Ignasi de Delàs, Deputy General Manager, Turisme de Barcelona said that the Spanish city, where 80% of tourists normally are international, had seen 80% less tourists since March.
With many hotels unable to operate, the city had explored many innovations around solidarity in the face of the crisis, for example with the Hotel Salut project, a private public project where 16 hotels offered 2,500 rooms for medical staff during the crisis.
It was one of the winners of the 2020 WTM’s Responsible Tourism Awards, which this year all focussed on tourism responses to COVID.
Looking to the future, it was agreed that the need was for a globally standardised way of reassuring travellers, governments and local people that tourists were safe to travel and be received. Paul Meyer from the Common Project Foundation updated on progress with the Common Pass project, which has recently launched its first two trials of common pass with Cathay Pacific and with United Airlines.
He explained that the challenge is how to manage a multitude of different testing approaches to establish which ones are providing trusted sources of data, and to match this with the safety requirements of different destinations – and even specific businesses.
And to do all of this without invading people’s privacy. Common Pass creates a globally scaleable model to give governments the confidence to begin to open up. “There are no perfect solutions – no COVID free,” explained Meyer. “This is about risk reduction.”
In a session exploring how the industry can Build Back Better, Caroline Bremner – Head of Travel Research, at Euromonitor International, reported that their research was seeing how certain societal shifts that were already happening before the pandemic have been accelerated, and that many of them will remain.
She cited as examples the growth of digital shopping and working from home, observing that both of these trends should affect how destinations looked to develop”.
What consumers want is more curation and more personalised services,” she said, adding: “as well as real time data to reassure them about coronavirus.”
Three destinations were represented on the panel – Scotland, South Africa and Germany. All of them reflected on how the pandemic was causing them to change the way they marketed their destinations.
Olaf Schlieper, Innovations Manager, German National Tourist Board, said that where Berlin previously sold itself for its events, now it is selling the chance to explore lakes and sample regional cuisines.
Sisa Ntshona, CEO, South African Tourism, said his country was now focusing on rural destinations, hidden gems, and repeat visitors.
And Riddell Graham, Director of Industry and Destination Development, VisitScotland said that destinations “had to be much more fleet of foot, much more engaged with communities – If we don’t take communities with us, then it’s not sustainable, and it’s not responsible tourism.”
Christopher Warren, who runs Crystal Creek Meadows, a small resort in rural Australia, shared his experiences of the last few months, explaining how most rural tourism that was within four hours reach of a city had been fully booked as soon as people could travel.
He reported finding that people are staying longer, taking the more expensive tariff rates, and coming in small family groups or groups of friends so they can spend time together.
“The relationship between us and guests is warmer,” he said. “It’s moved from being just commercial towards something greater.”
However, he contrasted the happiness his guests experience at feeling free and able to travel, with the increased pressure on him as a host. “It’s a different story,” he said.
“You’ve more responsibility. There’s the additional pressure looking after staff. You have to balance having a potential for a higher rate of occupancy with needing to judge what is too much.
We have to be concerned for our community, for our shops and for local and especially elderly people. Guests arrive not feeling a threat and behave accordingly. But this creates nervousness for local people.” said Christopher Warren.
A session on biodiversity and tourism explored how the COVID crisis has revealed how interrelated many of the crises confronting humanity are.
“We will never get a better poster child for how biodiversity loss affects us than COVID.” says Aradhana Khowala, CEO & Founder, Aptamind Partners. “Unless we find a way to regenerate and enhance biodiversity and do it quickly, we are basically doomed.”
John Scanlon, the Acting CEO and Chair, Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation, observed that conservation has always been underfunded and too reliant on tourism, as shown by the impact of COVID removing that funding.
He said the key was to diversify the sources of investment, and to do this by emphasising how many different sectors of society benefit from biodiversity conservation, from those focussing on healthcare to security or climate change.
“It’s not just about wild space and wild animals, said Scanlon. “COVID has psychologically shifted people’s thinking to see that you can’t keep messing around with wild animals and wild places and not have any consequences.”
The day closed on a session assessing progress towards decarbonising aviation. Speakers looked at different aspects, including the role of sustainable aviation fuels (which can be used with current aircraft but are expensive compared to kerosene), electric airplanes (which have limitations in terms of size and range), and hydrogen (which needs new infrastructure and new planes).
“Not only do we have an economic imperative, but we have a social and moral imperative to decarbonise aviation,” said Jason Chua COO & Co-Founder, Universal Hydrogen Co.