The pandemic has accelerated tourism transformation. Most of the disruptive elements we are witnessing now were already present before at some scale, but COVID-19 has hastened changes. It has also expanded dynamics that were previously linked to a small percentage of travelers—the creative society—to a massive scale, adding complexity to the tourism ecosystem.
Travelers have a new perspective that tourism companies must fold into their value proposition
A general sense of fragility has deepened a trend that was present already, that of conscious or transformational travel.
The post-pandemic traveler demands products and services that resonate with a new perception of the world.
This new vital perspective affects any tourism-related value proposition. For this reason, tourism companies and destinations should consider the following traveler needs and concerns when defining their offering:
- Travelers express a greater desire for individuality and self-realization.
- They possess a higher collective awareness and a growing desire for deeper cooperation.
- The search for transcendence and meaning, and the need to leave a legacy, are factors that influence post-pandemic travel.
- Travelers have a more profound concern for ethics, inclusion, and responsibility — both in their own actions and in what they expect from the industry.
- They realize that the actual value lies predominantly in the distinctive features of the destination, which are, generally, very simple.
- Travelers want to generate a positive impact on the environment and the local community, which explains the rise of regenerative tourism.
- They express a genuine concern for sustainability in its three dimensions: social, economic, and environmental. The social element is becoming as important as the environmental one. Our survey of aviation executives and consumers following the outbreak of COVID-19, in which 88% of the respondents claimed that they would opt for a more sustainable trip in the future, emphasized this growing concern.
The desire for a more immersive approach to travel requires a human touch
These evolved traveler perspectives have a direct impact on product development and commercialization. The focus of leisure activities such as wellness, sports, gastronomy, and cultural tourism must incorporate a more immersive approach to satisfy the needs of the post-pandemic traveler. This added complexity also requires a more sophisticated method of commercialization. Technology facilitates visibility and access to resources, but the aspiration to obtain a personalized offering has expanded the opportunities for specialized travel agents and travel planners. The human touch is back.
The impact of remote workers on tourism destinations
COVID-19 has also expanded trends related to personal freedom and how people combine work and personal life. The presence of remote workers has been one of the few dynamic elements in some tourism destinations during the pandemic, opening the door to a new specialization segment. This element has some interesting effects beyond its economic impact. One is the talent attraction component. Another one is that this type of visitor stays longer and engages further with the local community and the place itself. Destinations enrich their value proposition due to this interaction, catering to remote workers’ demand for more complex products and services than those usually offered at a standard touristic place. This, in turn, benefits the experience of locals and regular tourists.
How are tourism dynamics affected by this new scenario?
The pandemic has accelerated digitalization in the tourism sector at large, particularly among small-size enterprises and individuals whose contribution to the tourism experience at the destination in terms of value and differentiation is very high. This has solved one of the most critical challenges we encountered before, when many of the most distinctive and exciting destination features were not accessible unless one knew someone locally. Yet it also poses a challenge related to governance.
To meet the higher expectations of the post-pandemic traveler, the various suppliers at the destination must work cohesively and collaboratively to deliver a seamless experience that goes beyond the mere addition of services. To reach this goal will require:
- Cooperation among competitors—coopetition—backed by an effective business model.
- Aligning private and governmental priorities via a deep and pragmatic form of public-private partnership that goes from a vertical hierarchical perception (government at the top, companies at the bottom) to a horizontal one (government and private sector side-by-side, working toward a common objective).
- The assumption of new roles by the stakeholders:
- Companies must add generic destination management conceptual vision to their everyday activities.
- Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) must dedicate as much effort to product development as they do to marketing.
- Clusters and associations must go beyond synergy creation to start undertaking joint commercialization.
- Governments must facilitate the crucial elements to the success of the destination professionally and systematically, particularly in terms of tourism intelligence and air connectivity, which is vital for recovery.
These changes expose the critical questions that a good governance model in tourism must solve, which are mostly related to leadership, legitimacy, and practical procedures.
Is the tourism sector ready?
This new scenario creates new opportunities for those destinations, companies, airports, and airlines that take the above factors into account. A higher level of consciousness goes hand in hand with new managerial values, which will materialize on tangible benefits: they will recover faster, increase their competitiveness, differentiate their offering, generate influence, and align their operations with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Yet, most destinations are not ready to offer what this sensitive tourist is searching for after the crisis. It’s a lot to take on. In addition to evolving their value propositions and navigating the many changes brought about by COVID-19, many destinations face the same overtourism issues they saw before the pandemic. What needs to be implemented?
- A higher degree of “conscious” specialization in product development through anticipation to trends, targeted segmentation, coopetition, and cocreation.
- Tangible exercises to foster social, economic, and environmental sustainability with the involvement of all key stakeholders, including the tourist—as messages and intentions are not enough.
- A different approach to targets and inbound markets via marketing and well-thought air connectivity.
- A leisure-related vision for airlines in collaboration with destinations to compensate for the decrease in business travel, sustain the operations, create new business opportunities, and improve travelers' experience.
- A more pronounced emphasis on branding, content, and reputation.
An example of this new integrated perspective is the repositioning strategy we designed during the pandemic for Lanzarote, one of Spain´s Canary Islands, a reference for coopetition, new tourism governance, sustainability product innovation, and commercialization.
Harsh times always bring opportunities. An occasion like this, where we can profoundly improve the tourism model for the benefit of locals and tourists alike, happens very rarely. Will tourism untap its full potential as a force for positive transformation?