Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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In 2020 alone, the travel and tourism sector lost $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs globally.

But as the world recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and tourism can bounce back as an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient sector.

Two experts highlight some of the key transformations in the sector going forward during the World Economic Forum’s Our World in Transformation series.

The Travel & Tourism sector was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving not only companies but also tourism-driven economies severely affected by shutdowns, travel restrictions and the disappearance of international travel.

In 2020 alone, the sector lost $4.5 trillion and 62 million jobs, impacting the living standards and well-being of communities across the globe. Moreover, the halt in international travel gave both leisure and business travellers the chance to consider the impact of their choices on the climate and environment.

Amid shifting demand dynamics and future opportunities and risks, a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient travel and tourism sector can be – and needs to be – built.

The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index 2021 finds that embedding inclusivity, sustainability and resilience into the travel and tourism sector as it recovers, will ensure it can continue to be a driver of global connectivity, peace and economic and social progress.

We spoke to Sandra Carvao, Chief of Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Thailand (PATA), and asked them to highlight some of the key areas of risk and opportunity in the sector during an episode of the World Economic Forum’s Our World in Transformation series.

What are some of the top global trends you’re witnessing currently in the travel and tourism sector?

Liz Ortiguera: Given the extended lockdown that we had on travel with the pandemic, vacation for friends and relatives (VFR) is now a high priority for people who haven’t been in touch for a long time thanks to the pandemic. So, people are reconnecting. And that kind of links to the second trend, which is multi-purpose or blended travel. Never before, particularly now that we can connect digitally through Zoom, has the ability to work from anywhere enabled travellers to cover multiple purposes, like visits with friends and multiple business trips. So, we’ll find that the duration of travel and the length of stay is longer. And third is the continued high focus on safety and wellness which is top of mind for travellers due to the pandemic. All travel is wellness-related now.

Sandra Carvao: I think there is a bigger concern with sustainability, which is very welcome in our industry. Consumers, particularly the younger generation, are much more aware of the impact they have, not only on the environment but also socially and on the communities they live in. We’ve also seen an increase in expenditure per trip, so I think people are very eager to go outside, and they’re staying longer. And on the other side, I think there are some challenges: we’re seeing a rise in late bookings because restrictions can change at short notice and that’s having an impact on the decisions of travellers. This is putting pressure on the industry in terms of planning and anticipating fluctuations in demand.

Social media surveys have shown that travellers who have immersive experiences are more likely to post about them, which is good for the industry.”— Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)

What is community-based tourism and why is it important?

Sandra Carvao: One of the positive impacts of the pandemic is that people are looking for local experiences and are spending more time with communities. So, the concept of community-based tourism is obviously one that puts the community at the core of every development, ensuring that it’s engaged and empowered and that it benefits. At the UNWTO, we worked with the G20 and the Saudi presidency back in 2020 and produced a framework for tourism development in communities, which states that communities need to be part of the planning and management of tourism activities. We need to go beyond traditional definitions of community to a point where the industry leans on partnerships between the public and private sectors and communities.

Liz Ortiguera: In July 2022, PATA is hosting a destination-marketing forum and one of the key themes is community-based tourism. The purpose is really to put the community and authenticity-in-culture activities at the heart of the travel experience. There are benefits for all stakeholders. One is that travellers can have an authentic experience. They’re not in overcrowded, touristic locations and they experience something new and unique within the community. These experiences are designed in partnership with communities who get the benefit of financial inclusion, and if activities are designed properly, the reinforcement of their cultural heritage. Governments also engage in economic development more broadly across countries. Another interesting trend is creative tourism, which means you create an experience for tourists to participate in, like a dance lesson, or a cooking lesson. Social media surveys have shown that travellers who have these kinds of immersive experiences are more likely to post about them online and that’s good for the industry.

It is important to emphasize that virtual experiences, while they are a fun tool, can never replace visiting a destination.”— Sandra Carvao, Chief of Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at the United Nations World Tourism Organization

How is technology and innovation helping to leverage cultural resources?

Sandra Carvao: One interesting trend we’re seeing is that more and more people are booking trips directly, so communities need to be supported to digitize their systems. Education and upskilling of communities are important so that they can leverage digital platforms to market themselves. From the tourists’ perspective, it is important to emphasize that virtual experiences, while they are a fun tool, can never replace visiting a destination.

Liz Ortiguera: People have been living virtually for more than two years. Amazing innovations have emerged, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, and all kinds of applications and tools. But the important thing is the experience. The destination. Real-world experiences need to remain front and centre. Technology tools should be viewed as enablers and not the core experience. And when it comes to staff, technology can really democratize education. There’s an opportunity to mobilize a mobile-first approach for those who are on the frontlines, or out in the field, and can’t easily access computers, but need to get real-time information.

Image: World Economic Forum

How is the sector dealing with labour shortages and re-employment of the workforce?

Liz Ortiguera: Labour shortages are much more dynamic in North America and in Europe. But it’s having a knock-on effect on Asia. If, for example, their air carriers are limited by staff and they have to cancel flights, which we’re very much seeing out of Europe, seating capacity then becomes a limiting factor in the recovery of Asia Pacific. That’s the main constraint right now. And compounding that is the rising price of fuel. But people in the Asia Pacific are keen to get reemployed.

Sandra Carvao: Labour shortages are a priority for the sector in countries around the world. Many workers left the sector during the pandemic and the uncertainty that surrounded the measures taken to contain it left many people unsure of whether the sector would recover. It is time to address things like conditions, scheduling, and work/life balance, all things which have been top of mind for workers during the pandemic. As the sector recovers, we need time to bring new hires on board and to train them to take over where those who switched jobs left off.

Are we seeing a growing trend towards domestic tourism?

Sandra Carvao: We’re talking about 9 billion people travelling within their own countries. And in many countries, for example in Germany, more than 80% of the tourism spending actually comes from the domestic market, similarly in countries like Spain and even smaller economies. Whenever it’s possible to travel again, domestic markets tend to be more resilient. They kick off first mostly due to perceptions of safety and security issues. As the world economy recovers from the pandemic, there is a good opportunity for nations to rethink their strategy, look at the domestic market in a different way, and leverage different products for domestic tourists.

Image: UN World Tourism Organization

When it comes to sustainable tourism, how quickly could we mainstream eco-friendly modes of transportation?

Sandra Carvao: Transport is one of the key contributors to energy impacts and tourism. But it’s also important that we look at the whole value chain. The UNWTO together with the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme just launched the Glasgow Declaration, which includes green commitments from destinations and companies. We’re seeing a strong movement in the airline industry to reduce emissions. But I think, obviously, technological developments will be very important. But it’s also very important to look at market shifts. And we can’t forget small islands and developing states that rely on long-haul air travel. It’s important to make sure that we invest in making the problem much less impactful.

Liz Ortiguera: ‘Travel and tourism’ is such a broad encompassing term that it’s not fair to call it an industry: it is actually a sector of many industries. The pandemic taught us how broad the impact of the sector is in terms of sustainability. There’s a big movement in terms of destination resilience, which is the foundation for achieving sustainability in the journey to net-zero. We now have standards to mitigate that impact including meetings-and-events (MIE) standards and standards for tour operators. There are multiple areas within our industry where progress is being made. And I’m really encouraged by the fact that there is such a focus not just within the sector but also among consumers.

Authored by: Juliet Masiga, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum

This interview was first done at the World Economic Forum’s studios in Geneva as part of the WEF’s ‘Our World in Transformation’ – a live interactive event series for it’s digital members. To watch all the episodes and join future sessions, please subscribe here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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