Have we reasons to be hopeful for tourism in 2021?

better tourism networking Dec 30, 2020

Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker (Nietsche, 1888)

What does not kill me makes me stronger

This is a phrase often used by parents to children to communicate the life-lesson that, even when we have to deal with something difficult, we will eventually be better off as a result of the difficulty. I like and dislike the phrase in equal measure – it’s a positive spin on a negative situation and ends up being neither positive or negative as a result. It couples disappointment and frustration with an irrationally upbeat and yet-to-be-proven declaration that it will all work out for the best in the end.

Yet, as I started this article with the question, it’s the one quote that springs to mind. It seems hard to find silver linings in 2020 and yet people mention them all the time.  Devastating as this year has been, people in the industry still find cause for gratitude and cause for optimism. It has been a great learning in that respect.

Starting from Rock Bottom

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say the industry was propelled to rock bottom this year and, even for the most optimistic of us, it is clearly going to be a long and challenging journey ahead.  Given that that’s our starting point for 2021, are there reasons for tourism businesses to be hopeful next year?

Global Green Shoots

On a global level, we know that there is pent-up demand around the world, we know that people are eager to travel and visit again, we know that vaccinations are in progress, we know that countries will slowly get their houses in order and that it will become easier to live alongside Covid-19.  All of that gives cause for hope.

Hopes for Business

On a business level, there are also very strong developments that can also give rise to optimism.  Here are 7 that come to mind:

  1. Financial Resilience

Businesses that come through 2020 and continue to operate in 2021 will be financially lean. They will have prioritized cash, cash flow and cash management and will have a focus on long-term profitability. They will have a really strong understanding of the financials of their business and will be motivated to build in financial resilience for future shocks.

  1. Digital Capacity

The digital capacity of tourism businesses has exploded and the move online, forced on us by Covid-19, will set businesses up well for the slow return of travel and visiting. Businesses are undoubtedly better positioned now to be effective and sustainable in a digital world.

  1. Experience Extension Opportunities

Individual business owners are realizing that they can commercialize the anticipation phase and the memory phase of their experience.  Through virtual tours, subscription models, online demonstrations and talks, retail and self-gifting products (pre-visit, in-visit and post-visit), new income-generating opportunities and new markets are emerging which can help achieve a healthier average spend, average number of transactions per guest and a greater balance of revenue across the year. 

  1. Greater seasonal spread

It is not unreasonable to think that seasonality may not be as pronounced a feature in the future as it has been in the past. Changes in lifestyle, work practices, perceptions of safety and willingness to be in crowded situations - these all present new opportunities that can help businesses and destinations who work together to even out the seasonality curve to a greater extent than in the past.

  1. Community Leadership

Community has emerged as a really strong social concept during Covid-19. We can expect that the role of community in influencing how tourism develops in a destination will be greater. This will benefit indigenous, independent tourism businesses who are vested, not only in generating profits, but also in creating flourishing communities in the place where they themselves live.

  1. Sustainability as Opportunity

Not only has sustainability not gone away, it has in fact solidified itself as a key driver for visitors, businesses, destinations and policymakers into the future.  We will emerge with a broader understanding of what ‘sustainability’ can mean and the positive and leading role that tourism businesses can play in regeneration. Those that shift their perspective and look for the opportunity in sustainability, rather than the obligation, will be the quickest to meet the emerging needs of our future visitors.

  1. From Visitor Experience to Visitor Empowerment

The dynamics of the relationship between host and guest are changing. It’s as yet unclear how this will play out in the future.  For now, hosts have moved from reacting to visitor needs towards a greater leadership role in empowering people to experience the world in a safe and warm way. Trust and credibility will be more important than ever.  We can expect that visitors will count on hosts to do right by them in the future, and also to empower them to do right by the local community and place.   

2020 is THE Line in the Sand for the tourism industry.  Forevermore, we will all know that we had a true chance to reflect on, re-set and re-imagine the role of this industry is in the world.  That in itself is the greatest cause for hope, I believe. 

The tourism industry has proven itself to be resilient and agile, creative and innovative. People in the industry have worked together openly and effectively, collaborating like never before. It is fully within our gift to pool these talents and to work together towards that better future. 

There is freedom in knowing that none of us have all the answers yet.  There is power in knowing that together we can work them out.

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