venerdì 21 Giugno 2024
And if tomorrow, and I stress if...Reflecting on Covid-19 and Tourism: the now, the tomorrow and the after?

Reflecting on Covid-19 and Tourism: the now, the tomorrow and the after?

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The now…

Unexpectedly, due to a global pandemic, we were forced to confine ourselves to new forms of work and social isolation. As a result, we change behaviours and routines and reflect a lot, perhaps some more than others, but I suppose we all have some kind of reflections. In the digital age, we resort to teleworking, teachers and students adapt to online education and families contact virtually. We pay more attention to the hygiene, the cleanliness and the way the health systems of the countries reacted to the epidemic began to receive special daily attention.

The COVID-19 pandemic caught thousands of tourists in transit putting some countries in enormous difficulties to return them home. In state of panic, some countries took drastic confinement measures and many hotels forced tourists to anticipated check-out. There were several testimonies on social networks about tourists sleeping in the streets that negatively affect destination image of these countries. Countries’ ability to react to a crisis and their security has become more important than ever.

Covid-19 brought thousands of deaths. People lost friends, grandparents, parents and even their children.

The slogan is “stay at home”. Through the windows and balconies, there are people sharing companionship, applause and music. Confinement has allowed dedication to the home, family and personal talents. People are discovering new skills: music, painting, writing and especially cooking which is back to the origins, the kitchen of memories, homemade bread and culinary recipes of childhood. However, this forced enclosure begins to cause claustrophobia, we need the family and friends, we need the fresh air and the sun, we need the beach and sea and the outdoor holidays. The stress is taking over us and with it a lot of psychological diseases are arising.

At the same time, people are sharing in social networks that “nothing will be like before”. As for tourism, it has suffered a huge shock, social networks are full of expressions that “tourism will change”, “mass tourism will end”, “this model of sustainability does not serve”, “the paradigm of sustainability is worn and outdated”, “we have to invent a new model of tourism”, “nature tourism is the most suitable”, and etc.

The now and tomorrow…

I never appreciated futurology, and even less when the subject is tourism. Since my tourism student days, I learned that if a butterfly beats its wings in one corner of the globe in the other extreme of the globe the tourism feels a hurricane. So, the greatest competence of a tourism professional is the systemic vision of tourism to understand all variables. In fact, we’re still inside the hurricane and we still don’t know when and how to get out of it. On April 10th, Reuters published a report showing that in South Korea recovered coronavirus patients tested positive again. On April 12th China reports new virus reactivation cases and on April 13th France extends the confinement period until the 11th of May.

However, assuming that we have overcome this health crisis by the end of June, we have 26 Schengen countries that will gradually lift restrictions on the circulation of people and thousands of companies that will restart their activity. In addition to this, we have a fragmented European Union (EU) that does not know how to react to the economic crisis that is coming again. Assuming that the politicians of the EU understand each other, and considering their announced intentions on April 10th, that the post-Covid’s economic recovery should be “green”, towards a green economy compatible with the environment, an economy that will mitigate the resulting high unemployment, that is, a fair economy for all. In fact, something hard to happen! But ok, let’s wish for the best case scenario because in this moment the most reasonable attitude is to be positive.

Thus, I agree with the opinion of other specialists in tourism: next year, we will have domestic tourism flows. Unfortunately, summer tourism 2020 is lost and countries should not dream that they can save it. This will not happen. Countries tourism managers must be sensitive and intelligent and must focus on mitigating the problem.  However, in my point of view, we can also have some little flows between European countries.

To understand these flows, we must focus on two simple things, tourist needs and travel displacement. Let us apply Oppermann’s theory (1989) to this moment, more precisely, the concept of travel horizon ladder, according to which individuals usually begin their “career” of travel going to nearby places and gradually reaching increasingly distant places, instead of venturing directly to distant destinations. This behavior is mainly justified by the need for safety, precisely the safety, will be the most valued attribute of 2020-2021 tourist destination-choice. Considering this, tourism destinations should adapt and react quickly, if necessary, lower prices. Do not forget that in the post-pandemic period there will be a serious economic crisis and the density of domestic tourism flow may be reduced due to lack of income for travel in the medium-low segment.

Reflecting about these small tourism flows among near European regions/countries, they can mitigate the losses of the 2020 summer tourism. From June to December 2020 will occur small-density flows from northern to southern Europe between nearest regions. This tourist behaviour is justified by the theories of impulse travel motivation explained by Dann’s model (1977, 1981). The confinement of Winter 2020/2021 followed by the confinement of Covid-19 will lead to isolation escape needs, socialization needs and sun needs. The most adventurous tourists from Nordic European countries, by impulse, will make a quick assessment of the pull factors (destination attributes) of the southern Europe destinations and they will take a risk on journeys to closer home locations. In this case, the key to success for these destinations, will be rapid adaptability to tourism demand, and the communication capacity to in real-time induce a destination image free of Covid-19, therefore, safe.

I also emphasize, that destinations will need to perceive in real-time the quality / characteristics of these flows, because the confinement may originate “the tourist I” but also “the tourist we”. I mean by this, that family tourism may increase and will arise “the tourism of friends” (maybe a “we” together with others than household members). Of course, these small flows of adventurous tourists, will not be enough to save the tourism sector of the 2020 summer period but will help to mitigate the damage. However, we have to consider that we are not sure what kind of sanitary measures will be applied to the movement of people between European countries in this summer. In addition, is the re-establishment of the work activity of companies. Some of them, will change their employees’ vacation periods. So, tourism destinations in southern Europe may extend their summer tourism seasons, maybe until October and mid-November. This is possible by offering tourism complementary products to the sun and sea in order to keep the destinations more desirable. You must offer certified hygienic tourism packages to combat tourist’s needs and combat health fears.

It has been argued for a long time that it is necessary to combat the seasonality of tourism. So, you must be creative and take advantage of this opportunity. Never before has it been so necessary to plan tourism in real time. Thus, the country’s political managers of these destinations need to listen to the tourism specialists, something they never did before. The countries governments, as they have done in the health sector during this Covid-19 epidemic, by hiring more professionals, must also, in the tourism sector, hire specialists to plan in real-time. Politicians should stop thinking that they know a lot about tourists, tourism or about tourism planning and communication.  Hire tourism specialists because they know how to make it happen. Ask yourselves why there are practically no tourism specialists in your governments, in tourism planning institutions, in tourism regions and in your tourism countries promotion teams. Really, if do not need tourism specialists, you should not spend public money training them in our universities. I hope that the moment we are living now will teach something!

I still think, that another small flow of tourists between countries could help the tourism in 2020, especially for Italy, Spain and Portugal is the “roots tourism”/ “diasporic tourism”, for two reasons:

  • These are countries where the weight of tourism in economies is huge and the post-pandemic economic crisis will cause damage to domestic tourism and this type of tourists may withdraw to travel;
  • They are countries with an expressive diasporic community.

First, I must point out that the emigration of these countries is not equal to the beginnings of emigration of 60s and 70s. Today, they travel several times a year, the majority of these emigrants do not have their own housing in their country of origin. Also, don’t forget that most of these “new emigrants” are qualified professionals with high salaries and they have disposable income to travel. The Covid-19 confinement, inhibited emigrants from making their regular travels to their origins, physically removed them from their families and friends, and thousands of emigrants were even prevented from saying goodbye to their dead. Surely post covid-19 will bring these communities traumas that are difficult to overcome.

In 2018 I published a paper on root tourism where I identify the push (personal) and pull (destination attractions) motivations of this typology of tourists. In this moment, root tourists, as well as other tourists, need to escape from Covid-19 traumas that suffocate them, and they need to return to native countries as a form of liberation. They will travel to the origins at any cost. So, destination managers should focus on providing attractions that allow them to circulate through the country avoiding that they stay in their home villages all holidays period.  

We must not forget, yet, that root tourism also comprises second and third generations, Covid-19 confinement brings to them socialization needs, but also reflections on identity and belonging. For these, the trip will constitute the rediscovery of familiar places, therefore safe, being perceived as a return to the roots.  It will be a journey to the ancestral homeland, in these cases, motivated by the desire to seek or to revive personal and family roots. In this discovery, they will feel safe, and they will perceive this trip as a way to satisfy their belonging needs and restore their “I”.  The travel displacement will be variable and will be made according each travel motivation, this type of tourist loves different types of tourism products. Therefore, it is not difficult to design tourism for them. To attract this typology of tourists, destinations must be agile in communication. I advise here, that tourism destination promotion should not forget that after this pandemic, maybe people may be tired of digital communication and may want to escape of indirect and virtual communication. So, in this period, maybe social media communication won’t be a good strategy.   

And the after?

Then, we must remember the promises made during the Covid-19 that “nothing is going to be like before”and we shouldn’t be “hypocrites” if nothing changes. “Hypocrites” and “cowards” because we normally stick our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see what’s happening around us. But why do people want to invent new tourism models or invent new models of tourism sustainability? First, each tourism destination is a different reality and the most important thing to do is to adapt existing tourism models to each destination specificity. Secondly, most countries only do partial planning, which means, there is no coordination of tourism planning between country regions. Furthermore, many of these regions don’t do tourism plan, however the EU funds their tourism projects (I never understood this). Third, there are a number of tourism planning models, from the most basic to the smarter tourism, but tell me how many countries have implemented them?

The first sustainability model proposed by Friedman emerged in the 60s of the last century, from then we walked to corporate social responsibility (CSR) that we achieved in 2000. CSR defends the “responsibility” that tourism companies and tourism destinations have to the society and through 4 dimensions: economic, legal, ethical and discretionary. CSR is a management paradigm that aims at the sustainability of companies and tourist destinations and is based on a simple word: responsibility.

As I said at the beginning of this reflection, during the COVID-19 crisis, thousands of tourists were stranded in their tourism holidays. In the panic of the pandemic, many hotels put tourists sleeping on the street and the managers of these destinations left tourists to their fate. Were these hotels and destinations ethical and responsible? Were the tourism destinations ethical and responsible when they did not create conditions for tourists to return home? Is destination promotion responsible when they run advertising campaigns with promotional videos inducing images of a destination they don’t have?

Don’t blame tourists please, they may be irresponsible sometimes, but if they travel to your destinations it’s because you attract them and accept them there. Are countries responsible when they receive more tourists than their destinations’ carrying capacity?  Don’t they know that there exist CSR and tourism planning? Greed is greater than ethics! In extreme situations, the ethical cost is high and in the absence of legislation, they quickly forget “responsibility”.

Well, to answer the “and then?”, I recall a tool in which I have worked over the last 15 years, that rarely tourism destination managers use, and is an excellent support for tourism planning: destination image evaluation. As defended by Dias and Cardoso (2017) and Cardoso et al. (2019), tourists choose their travel destinations based on the image they hold in their minds about a set of attributes of this places that consist in viable options to them, which is their available set.

If you want, you can waste energy inventing new tourism models and new smart tourism systems. But first, strive to implement the existing ones and adapt them to your destinations and to new realities. However, do not forget that in the future, more than ever, tourists will be keeping an eye on how destinations behaved in the recent past, how they are behaving in the present and how they intend to behave in the future. In “the after?” how can a tourism destination be smart, if it doesn’t care how people perceived it?

Bibliographic sources:

Cardoso, L., Dias, F., Araújo, A. & Andrés Marques, I. (2019). A destination imagery processing model: Structural differences between dream and favourite destinations. Annals of Tourism Research, 74, 81-94.

Cardoso, L., Matos Pereira, A. & Andrés Marques, I. (2018). Routes of the memory of the Portuguese diaspora – construction of a motivation evaluation model. Estudios y Perspectivas en Turismo, 27(2), 213-232.

Dann, G. (1977) “Anomie, ego-enhancement and tourism”. Annals of Tourism Research 4(4): 184-194.

Dann, G. (1981) “Tourist motivation an appraisal”. Annals of Tourism Research 8(2): 187-219

Dias, F. & Cardoso, L. (2017). How can brand equity for tourism destinations be used to preview tourists’ destination choice? An overview from the top of Tower of Babel. Tourism & Management Studies, 13(2), 13-23.

A new section

Among the many doubts that plague my mind, just like yours these days, I have only one certainty: when we return to everyday life, nothing will be the same as before. We are facing a challenge that is reductive to call it organizational, it is a philosophical challenge, it is the vision of the world that will change and on which we will have to build the new. And if tomorrow... and I stress "if" is a new column (the title is taken from the verses of a song very popular in Italy) that is open to contributions from intellectuals, scientists, artists, from all over Europe. Follow us and send us your impressions which we will publish periodically with the intention of creating an anthology of ideas.

Giampaolo Sodano

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