Why we need to think about “socialising tourism” after Covid

Why we need to think about "socialising tourism” after Covid
Crowds of tourists during a carnival in Venice, Italy, in 2017. Image: iStock

Right at the centre of the New Zealand Tourism Futures Taskforce are the ideas of responsible and sustainable tourism with values, communities, and people. But what are the ideas of change?

To start with, discussing Covid-19, historian Yuval Noah Harari claimed: “This storm will pass. But the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come”.

As a tourism researcher, I have been interested in how Covid-19 might mark a pivotal moment in the future of tourism. In response to the impacts of the crisis, will we embark on even more hyper forms of tourism development or will we become more thoughtful and discerning in our tourism choices?

It is hard to do such thinking when our tourism and hospitality industries have been hammered. All around the world, borders have been shut, airlines grounded and venues closed. As a result, the Covid-19 pandemic crisis has been devastating in its impacts on travel and tourism, as well as the hospitality, arts and events affiliated sectors.

The World Tourism Organization has estimated: up to an 80% decline in international tourism in 2020; a possible US$1.2tr loss in tourism export revenues; and a risk to up to 120 million direct tourism jobs. Even in places where the pandemic has been well-managed, the threat of second waves looms over us until we find more long-term answers through an effective vaccination programme.

In such circumstances, it would seem logical we would want a return to normal as soon as possible. In terms of tourism, Covid-19 has shown us just how dependent our economies and societies are on tourism and these affiliated sectors. But has this been a good thing?

Before Covid-19 struck, reports came from around the world that suggested that tourism was bursting at the seams.

Overtourism hit tourism destinations as diverse as Barcelona, Venice, Reykjavik, Queenstown, Machu Picchu and Byron Bay. This phenomenon occurs when tourism growth dynamics result in the overshoot of the destination’s carrying capacity (in both physical and psychological terms). This resulted in community protests, calls to stop some forms of tourism (e.g. cruises and daytrippers), proposals to radically re-regulate it and actual closures of places such as Boracay, Philippines and Maya Bay, Thailand.

This is an excerpt from an article by Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, originally published on tourismticker.com.

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