“A bucket list that’s been robbed of a year” is how one tourism boss described the effects — so far — of a pandemic that’s left no destination unscathed. Yet the scars will last longer.
Three tourism leaders shared their visions on Tuesday in a panel called The Decade Ahead: How Destinations Will Adapt at the Skift Global Tourism, with the verdict that a resetting will take some time.
Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, said he was initially in a “phase of denial” before moving to a proactive phase, but is aware things will never be the same.
“The one thing we’ve all learned is to expect the unexpected. I’d like to think it won’t be as drastic, with the number of deaths, but you just can’t be comfortable in terms of thinking we won’t have any hiccups along the way.”
For Gavin Landry, director of the Americas at VisitBritain, this was the first supply side crisis he had been through. Prior crises saw demand affected, which is easier to deal with, he told Rosie Spinks, Skift’s global tourism reporter. “There’s a great challenge ahead for us to deal with reduced capacity. That’s hit me as something that’s very different.”
Another long-term change destinations will be forced to adapt to will be marketing.
“It’s great to talk about how amazing the hotel room is, but people are going to want to know what safety standards are in place, as a prerequisite before you start talking about how great the experience is. You’re talking about life and death, not catching a cold,” Ferguson said.
“This will have a lasting effect. Any advertising should be prefaced by your standards of cleanliness, that’s the difference between choosing you property, or theme park, or sporting event — or not.”
Meanwhile, as destination marketing organizations and government tourism bosses plan for the future, they should take note that the next generation of consumers won’t be unaware of their impact on planet. Landry pointed out that on the supply side, sustainability had been discussed for the past 20 years. That was now being led by consumers.
“Mass tourism, volume tourism, has been driving the bus, so to speak”, he said, “so the role we can play, understanding these notions of sustainability need to be dealt with, could be strengthened by the reset.”
However, Covid-19’s side effects will be less intense for some countries, such as Rwanda. A low-volume, high-value tourism destination, Clare Akamanzi, CEO at the Rwanda Development Board, said 2019 was the best year in nine years, which saw half a billion dollars and growth of 17 percent.
While the most of the industry battles with refunds and credit notes, Akamanzi said 90 percent of tourists were happy to defer their holidays. “It gives us hope,” she said. “Once travel can be done comfortably, I believe once we cross that milestone, I don’t look at it as a long term problem.”
Akamanzi says there may be a two-year impact, but there’ll be little change owing to the nature of the type of tourism, with strict ecological guidelines due to conservation requirements.
Photo Credit: Clare Akamanzi, CEO at the Rwanda Development Board, predicts things will return to normal within two years. Ben Curtis / Associated Press
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