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World Tourism Day: The Future of Tourism in a Global Pandemic

To mark World Tourism Day on September 27, WGU's Dr Marcus Hansen on what a global pandemic has meant and will mean for the future of tourism. Will hitting the reset button bring a new focus to sustainable tourism?

Back in March I wrote a blog about the likely impact of Covid-19 on the international tourism industry. Back then, there was a great deal of uncertainty, naturally, and no one really knew what the world would look like at the end of the summer. There were great fears that some major airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, would cease to exist and that tourism would never really return to normality again. Almost six months later, this uncertainty largely still remains and is likely to do so until we have something like a successful vaccine. Thus, whilst some people have returned to the office, many still work from home and intend to do so for the foreseeable future: indeed, I am writing this blog from the dining room – my make-shift office.

What we do know is that international tourism laboured through the summer. Lockdown measures across many Western countries, in particular, were largely lifted in the early days of summer. Yet, uncertainty remained as to the safety of travelling abroad, so many opted to travel domestically. We certainly all saw the pictures of busy beaches across the UK on sunny days.

Sunday 27th September is World Tourism Day, a day that most of us in the tourism sphere have had cause to celebrate for decades, due to an almost incessant rate of growth, only paused with the odd financial crisis. Even after the 2008 financial crisis, tourism was quick to recover. However, this year is vastly different from any other year in comparison. Today, many within the tourism industry are struggling. Virgin Atlantic still exists, but have had lay off thousands of employees. Many SMEs have ceased to exist or are barely making it. Some statisticians have forecasted a 20-30% hit to the international tourism industry, with international tourism arrivals hovering around 1bn. That is a considerable downturn to an industry that supports 10% of the global workforce and 10% of global GDP.   

So, what can we make of this? What does this mean for the future of tourism? Will we ever travel abroad again like we used to? There are still so many questions and the reality is that we don’t know. Before this pandemic, the international tourism industry was in a desperate need of hitting the “reset” button. Overcrowded destinations, pollution, waste, destruction of the environment, inaccessible environments, the list goes on. Before the pandemic, there were almost 1bn more international arrivals than in 1990. So, this pandemic has allowed us to go back to our roots and explore them further. That, of course, has its own problems. Here in Wales, for example, Snowdonia saw its busiest day ever. Yet, the pandemic has, is and should allow us to re-evaluate what kind of tourist we want to be and what kind of industry we want to experience. Do we want to support an industry which is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions? Do we want to support an industry in which essential natural environments such as the Great Barrier Reef are suffering? Indeed, do we want to support an industry in which those who live with a disability struggle to go on vacation due to inaccessible environments? I hope that from all this, the tourism industry, and society in general, is able to reset our vacation demands and be guided by the triple bottom line instead. We now have a great opportunity to do so to help create a better tomorrow for future generations.

About the author

Dr Marcus Hansen

Dr Marcus Hansen

Dr. Marcus Hansen is Hospitality, Tourism and Events Programme Leader at WGU. His masters degree and PhD are from Manchester Metropolitan University and he has worked as a Marketing and Tourism Management lecturer and research assistant at the University of Nottingham. Before going into academia, he owned and operated aerial adventure parks in the United States. He also once had a restaurant serving waffles with savoury and sweet toppings. Outside of work he likes to spend time with his family, read and travel.