A nation is commonly defined as a group of people of the same origin who generally speak the same language and have a shared tradition. A tourism nation, therefore, is a group of people made up of both locals and visitors who are involved in and permeate the tourism value chain. When these actors that make up the tourism nation seek the common good, this endeavor translates into contributions, advances, and tools that tend towards the strengthening of the tourism sector itself. A tourism nation is a nation in which the democratization of income and opportunities are infinite for everyone and where humanity grows just from the simple fact of getting to know new cultures, people. When considered as a nation, tourism becomes the art of activating humanity through a smokeless economy.
This nation, however, does not simply spring up on its own – it requires attention and resources. The reinforcement and efforts in the sector should be concentrated in three areas, which in turn are catalysts for development: Innovation, Investment, and Education. What role does each of these components play?
Let’s begin with innovation in tourism. Insofar as innovation is understood as the process of introducing new developments in elements of something that already exists, innovation in tourism implies the introduction of disruptive technologies for the operation, efficiency, and advancement of the sector. But it also implies creating new ways of attracting tourists, treating customers, finding mechanisms to operate sustainably, being resourceful when it comes to solving the shortcomings of the sector, updating the experiences offered to clients in niche products, and revolutionizing the way in which local communities benefit from the activity. Innovation in tourism is also present when the activity is no longer seen as a mere transaction between the tourist and the local and becomes the mechanism through which entrepreneurs can contribute to the 2030 Agenda, since more and more startups have adopted in their core mission and values one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
But we’ve all heard about innovation already, haven’t we? It is recurrent on blogs and in magazines and has become a common buzzword in companies, speeches, and podcasts. Yet, what are we doing to truly advance it? What practical mechanisms exist to foster it? Although the tourism nation has come a fairly long way, and the sector has seen a great deal of positive innovation in the last ten years, there is still much to be done. In regards to innovation, we must still endeavor to transform words into action.
Being the most human of industries is tourism’s added value and, therefore, it must be equally reinforced in the academic curriculum.
For example, there is a need for more training programs on tourism entrepreneurship aimed at young people, of whom 50% have expressed interest in developing their own startups. These are the individuals who will create the value-added jobs of the future. More work is also needed on strategies that promote innovation through tax benefits aimed at easing the burdens on startups. It is likewise necessary to assist the “soft landing,” of companies in the process of internationalizing or attempting to access a new country, so that they have sufficient guarantees and the process can be as smooth as possible when they arrive in the destination country.
And importantly, the greater the number of ventures, the greater the investment. Today, only 5% of the world’s large technology companies belong to the tourism sector. We need to innovate in legislation to capture the attention of more entrepreneurs looking for solutions focused on sustainable and responsible tourism, where multiple benefits and incentives are offered to all those who seek to grow more strategic capital for the development and evolution of the tourism model.
As for the role of investment in tourism, it is going through what is perhaps its most crucial moment. Despite the 2020 drop in global investment, the amount of funding for the tourism technology sector remains not only stable but also experienced a marginal increase during the first half of the year compared to 2019. Technology investments of more than USD22 billion is proof of this. This is noteworthy, considering the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health and the global economy, such as the 74% reduction in international tourist arrivals, the loss of trillions of USD in global GDP, and the more than 100-120 million jobs at risk. In addition, 5% of global unicorn companies correspond to the travel sector — such as Airbnb, SpaceX, Flixbus, Oyo, Didi, and SOCAR. As can be seen, investments in travel tech have advanced by leaps and bounds, and at this moment it could be said that they have been the lifelines of tourism – 50% of investors are willing to invest in green tourism investments. Therefore, efforts should aim towards this, offering financial benefits to those who have ecological capital, and providing support through a regulatory framework that encourages investment.
To incentivize green investments in tourism, it will always be necessary to have a solid foundation of: integrators working across the tourism value chain to promote and implement sustainability measures (such as performance and efficiency); education and training on the development and construction of green buildings must be provided (this applies to hotels), and the necessary guarantees to allow sustainable investments (such as accreditations and certifications). Efforts should be made to facilitate sustainable investment mechanisms to access green finance opportunities. For example, in the case of hotels that are transitioning to a sustainable model through green investments, the benefits they can reap from this are: increased profit margins by saving on utilities; increased revenue by satisfying consumer preferences and reducing reputational risk; guaranteed investment strategies that are shielded against any future risk; protection against regulatory risk and benefits from incentives.
Regarding tourism education, it is necessary to create a solid foundation that can be built from the very beginning of the academic life of our children. As I have written previously, “The solution to the informal labor market in tourism is a lifelong learning methodology in which online education helps to broaden the way people are educated. In order to create value-added jobs and empower young leaders, we must develop an educational model that starts at an early stage, helping children understand the importance of tourism in society and integrating classes that teach skills related to tourism and hospitality into the curriculum.” This is crucial.
However, I would like to highlight an important requirement: While technical skills such as knowledge of new technologies – software development and data coding will undoubtedly be vital in tourism – it’s the ethical and human component that will always distinguish tourism from other sectors of the economy. Being the most human of industries is its added value and, therefore, it must be equally reinforced in the academic curriculum. Tourism is made up of interactions and meaningful sharing experiences between people and tourism is a leader and a point of reference when it comes to service. After all, tourism sets the benchmark in what the art of serving represents.
All three components – innovation, investment, and education – are indispensable and serve to create a solid foundation for the tourism nation. They are necessary, complementary, and non-exclusive components. Innovation is required to change and improve the way we educate and how we provide services and attend to travelers, to diversify experiences and make them memorable, to improve the way we invest, and to improve the distribution of tourism revenues.
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of the most vulnerable so that they can move from the informal economy to tourism entrepreneurship, the inclusion of rural areas and the inclusion of young people, who form a large part of those employed in tourism, are some of the priorities in order to advance towards a more sustainable model. Investments are needed in order to bring these innovations to reality but, in turn, government commitment is required to encourage new investments that are more sustainable, responsible and with a large social impact component, so that they can act not only as creators of infrastructures but also as creators of human capital. We must have an economic, human, and social capital that recognizes the potential of the sector and reinforces it so it can continue to take off. Solid, quality tourism education is required to strategically direct innovation and investments towards the formation of a tourism nation, one that can demonstrate why tourism is the sector with the greatest economic impact and the one that generates the greatest inclusion.
© IE Insights.