It is possible that we will see the beginning of an era of “tourism deglobalisation”, which will see a focus on the rediscovering of small villages and native culture
How will travel and holiday-making change? What will be the post-pandemic evolution of tourism, and what opportunities and challenges will the change present us?
These are questions that, in this period characterised by the Covid-19 emergency and the transition into phase 2, we are ever-increasingly asking ourselves, in an attempt to balance our desire for freedom and relaxation with uncertainty over the future and limitations imposed on our desire to get away.
What follows is an analysis of the new form that the world of tourism is taking following a crisis that has affected all areas of the industry, which may appear ruthless, although I believe it is necessary to examine situations that emerge from a study of facts rather than from forecasts based on the best of intentions.
I would like to begin with a general consideration of the consequences of this more accessible world on modern tourism; from the unsustainable phenomenon of “overtourism” that has characterised the last decade, there will now be a shift to a phase of “undertourism”, in which certain popular destinations will pass from being exclusive to being excluded, ousted by new criteria for choosing a destination, in particular by the desire for a more personal and significant holiday, one that is more protected and more sustainable.
The crisis has exposed the fragility of a globalised world that, perhaps for its very mobility and excessive interconnectability, has favoured the spreading of the virus that has led to its paralysis. It is possible that we will see the beginning of an era of “tourism deglobalisation”, which will see a focus on the rediscovering of small villages and native culture, the examination of destinations that were previously less popular, quiet areas immersed in nature, uncrowded places and open spaces, despite a narrower range of services on offer. The search for “space” will become a trend, it will be the main added value, above all in the luxury tourist segment, and in this new area of competition we will see the emergence of destinations that are capable to present themselves as characterised by low tourist density.
The pandemic will change social customs, our culture and our set of values. We will see a slowing in the rhythm of our lives, and the significant impact that all of this will have on tourism will be seen in the change to social habits that have always been considered impossible to uproot. Travel will diminish, trips in people’s own countries or bordering nations will be preferred over long-haul journeys. The air travel industry will see a period of acute reductions in demand. There will be fewer flights, with people preferring to travel by car this year, and maybe even the next. The holiday period will shift, with an increased spread over the year rather than the usual concentration in July and August, and there will be a change in the way that holidays are seen, with a return to the residential holiday resorts typical of the 1960s and 70s and, for a certain period, we will set aside short last-minute breaks in favour of more stable and quiet holidays. Many will choose home rental over hotels.
We have been given an opportunity to reflect on how much our lifestyle is – perhaps – overly concentrated on the exhibitionism and superficiality of the digital age, which for many is more intense than real life. We have had the chance – and the time – to reflect on essential values, on what we really want and desire. Before the pandemic, overcrowded places were considered a synonym of fun and success, and it was taken for granted that the attractiveness of a destination depended solely on how busy it was. The charm of places visited was often “obscured” by the frenetic desire to take the perfect photo to post on one’s profile, in order to get as many likes as possible to the detriment of exploring and discovering the true essence of the destination. Now, on Instagram, those places appear like memories of a past life, something that we have now been denied. What remains is the hope and the desire to be able to return, not for a photograph, but to truly appreciate them.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes
This is what will change, at least for a while. “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”, said Marcel Proust, and this idea seems more topical than ever; to see and perceive things in an authentic and instinctive manner, a holiday in which freedom and tranquillity are sensations to be experienced first and foremost by ourselves.
The “new tourism” and the crisis generated by the pandemic will have consequences not only on a social level, but also from an economic point of view, and the tourism industry, which has been suffering terribly for months, will undergo relentless long-term deterioration, with effects on collateral sectors and everything that relates to it. Lower levels of tourists will involve the entire sector, highlighting the unsustainability of the mass-tourism system. Airlines will close, many hotels will be unable to reopen, and many other tourism businesses will suffer the effects of the crisis for years. It is probable that low-cost tourism will be hit harder than the luxury segment, as the more disadvantaged social classes will have fewer resources to dedicate to leisure due to the effects of the economic crisis.
The OECD has stated that the shock of the 2020 pandemic could cause a downturn of between 45% and 70% in the international tourism economy for the entire current year. More specifically, according to forecasts from Assoturismo, this year our country will lose approximately 60% of tourists, ending 2020 with around 172 million presences, levels that were last seen in the mid-1960s, when the world population was half the current size, the globe was divided into blocks in the midst of the Cold War, and air travel was for a privileged few.
Tourism is also one of the central themes for our Region, Sardinia, where – according to the situation forecast by an analysis carried out by Demoskopika – the island could see the loss of around 6 thousand jobs this year. And there is more. Approximately 1500 businesses risk collapse, and the first quarter of 2020 in Sardinia has already seen the closure of 354 tourism businesses, with an overall fall of 241, as until today, only 113 new businesses have been set up.
For the recovery, the “new normality” will have to include all kinds of change. Practical and health and hygiene measures, safe methods of travel, social distancing, and safety regulations in public places, hotels and on beaches.
Characterised by predominant and uncontaminated nature and wide-open spaces, Sardinia is one of the regions that could be considered as an ideal destination for a “safe holiday” and for low-density tourism.
There is a desire to recommence with creativity and innovation, with the awareness and the need for a form of tourism that is more sustainable and attentive towards nature, people, feelings, the fears generated in this period and the psychological aspects of the new sociality.
I would have like to have ended by asking myself whether, at the end of the pandemic, a new form of humanity would prevail, or whether everything would go back to the way it was before, but as I don’t like surprises, I will personally be working towards the first possibility, in line with our company mission, in order to create “a more hospitable world” for everyone.
by Mario Ferraro
Ceo Smeralda Holding e Vice Presidente Confindustria Centro Nord Sardegna con delega al turismo