As we stumble out of lockdown, dazed, bruised and confused, our industry is stricken.
My Twitter feed is full of dire predictions, alarming stats with the number of businesses that won’t re-open, the millions of jobs at risk, thousands of crew still waiting to disembark and return to their families, but stuck on cruise ships anchored in Manilla bay, amongst others. The worst has been the many terribly sad, personal stories of hardship and loss. We have all been impacted. Cities, regions, entire countries closed. Grounded aircraft and empty skies.
And then there were the dolphins in Venice. The goats that roamed Llandudno. Penguins in Cape Town. Lions taking a nap on now-quiet roads in the Kruger National Park. Cities emerging from the smog. Birdsong. Everyone has noticed the birdsong.
Covid-19 is the horror show that crept up on an industry is full flourish. I recall tour operators reporting record bookings in January and February, expectations high that the 2020 season would signal a recovery from the previous years of sluggish growth. Here in the Chilterns, we had been working so hard on the development of a new explorer pass, and had in fact just launched. It was only when ITB was cancelled, that we all knew for sure how serious this pandemic was going to be.
Whilst the price of travel was low, the cost had become too high
I work in an industry that is responsible for promoting and encouraging the mass movement of people away from their homes to all manner of destinations and leisure experiences. In recent years, the push to join a cruise, create a bucket list, take multiple city breaks, visit remote locations, follow travel influencers blagging their way around the world, top 10’s of this and top 10’s of that, trying to fill an insatiable hunger for Instagram likes whilst sharing life through a filter, was unceasing. Relentless. Polluting the environment at every turn – plastic bottles and carbon footprints.
Is this the post-Covid industry we want?
Currently, there are increasingly calls for quarantine measures to be curtailed, the economy to open up and airports to fill with holiday makers before the summer season is lost. I have read a small number of articles about how this disaster is the opportunity to take heed of climate change. Nowhere however, have I read or heard our industry taking a long hard collective look at the impact of our activities; the impact on our environment, host communities, scarce resources such as water, supply chains, the role of the SME’s that make up the majority of our industry, employees on low pay and scant protection, and so often spurious government decisions.
There are still too many tone-deaf #TravelLater or #DreamNow travel promotions, who have yet to acknowledge the world has changed and with it, travel. The commentary still littered with cliches and a nod to SEO, seems to have not moved on, nor recognising or embracing the need to redress the damage of simply inviting endless visitors.
These messages don’t speak to me, in fact they will make me stay away. A big change for someone who thought nothing of boarding countless flights on holiday or to visit friends and family, I keep thinking of those dolphins, those lions and goats. Getting on so well without us sticking our lenses in their faces, our dirty diesel engines in their lagoons or oceans, nor adding to the toxic fumes that hang over so many cities. I am keenly aware of the many many jobs that rely on a vibrant tourism economy, but that doesn’t mean we have to rush back to our old ways. I’m all for slower travel, seeing less and not being a hinderance to host communities. This sort of travel costs more, but shouldn’t we be prepared to pay more?
We need to be educating our communities and visitors of safe behaviours and new protocols as well as the experiences to be enjoyed
How can we use this opportunity to consider more the consequences of our actions, and less the short-term gains of only being able to boast of increased bums on seats? Do we want our industry to still be dominated by big business? Or can we carve our own sustainable niche to better serve our customers and communities?
Perhaps we will evolve into a less selfie-obsessed world full of lazy checklists, causing less indirect environmental conflict and direct damage, and slowing down and stopping the rushing around bagging top filtered sights? Instead to forge links with the places we visit to ensure the experience is positive for both host and visitor.
Out with: bucket lists, top 10’s, Instagrammable locations and shallow influencers, something for everyone language and massive carbon footprints.
In with: slow travel, localism, inclusive visitor management strategies for visitors as well as host communities, language that speaks to a sense of place, not about a sense of place, commissioning locals to write tourism features about the places NTO’s, DMO’s and tour operators are promoting. And most of all, an acknowledgement that we recognise the world has changed and our role as travel industry professionals within it.
What travel industry do you want?