Tourism: A Sector of People, for People
Today, tourism faces another global challenge arising from the current health crisis. To restore the sector to normality and put it back on a path towards growth, we must make efforts in three key areas: safety measures, the recovery of tourist destinations, and prosperity.
by Natalia Bayona, Professor at School of Global & Public Affairs and Senior Expert on Innovation and Digital Transformation at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
With each passing year, the tourism sector has strengthened its position as one of the world’s foremost drivers of socioeconomic development. Along the way, it has demonstrated its resilience by overcoming major challenges. Today, tourism faces another global challenge arising from the current health crisis. The sector will have to provide calm, consistent, collective responses to restore travelers’ mobility and peace of mind.
Over the past ten years, the tourism sector has faced major challenges such as the attacks of September 11, 2001, the SARS epidemic of 2003, and the financial crisis of 2009. Despite these obstacles, the characteristic strength and resilience of tourism have enabled the sector to position itself as one of the world’s most powerful economic engines not only in terms of growth (4% in 2019) but also as one of the largest sources of employment (one in ten professionals worldwide works in tourism).
The restrictions arising from the COVID-19 health crisis pose a new challenge for a sector built upon the interaction and movement of people. The emerging landscape—quite unlike the world as we knew it—gives rise to new needs that must be met.
To restore the sector to normality and put it back on a path towards growth, we must make efforts in three key areas: safety measures, the recovery of tourist destinations, and prosperity.
Safe and efficient travel
The pandemic will no doubt change many habits that we previously took for granted. The tourism sector needs to respond to this new reality by designing solutions focused on safety measures, sanitizing methods, and early detection, with the aim of protecting all travel-related stakeholders.
The return to normal will be gradual. Travelers will naturally have certain concerns, which the sector will have to assuage. To address this more emotional challenge, tourist destinations will have to develop rebranding strategies and improve their communication and crisis-management techniques in order to regain travelers’ trust.
A global call
With an eye to both the short and the long term, tourism companies and destination countries need to orient their strategies towards recovering demand. Digital applications, solutions based on the sharing economy, and investment commitments will be essential in this scenario.
The focus on these needs and the search for solutions has inspired a new challenge launched by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which aims to promote innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting startups capable of meeting these major challenges through proven, ready-to-implement solutions in areas such as methods, processes, governance structures, social impact initiatives, new technological applications, and existing technologies. Innovation is the only way to develop sustainable, value-added solutions to mitigate the effects of this health crisis.
This is not the first time we have encountered obstacles in our path. The tourism sector has always been able to overcome adverse situations. By correctly identifying and mitigating global and local risks, sharing information, and developing new standards and procedures, among other measures, the tourism sector will be able to adapt its response and safeguard the movements of travelers.
In the words of the Secretary-General of the UNWTO: “The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is a challenge we must face together. Our response must be calm, consistent, and collective. Tourism will once again be there to help people and communities recover from this setback.”
Learn more about the UNWTO’s Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge here.