Room to Breathe
Outdoors is the new ‘cool’. A combination
of the search for space (for both safety and
‘spiritual’ reasons) and appreciation of nature,
which have grown during the pandemic, is likely
to fuel the penchant for less crowded, rural
But, as rural destinations boom, they will be
under pressure to manage a level of growth
many are ill-equipped to handle. Problems of ‘overtourism’ more familiar to Venice and
Barcelona may begin to afflict more beauty
spots around Europe, damaging the very appeal
that attracts people. Authorities may hope for
the best, but they need to plan for the worst.
COVID precautions, which add to the hassle
of travel, will encourage people to seek value
for time and spend longer in their destination,
rather than on Instagrammable short breaks.
Having discovered space in rural destinations,
people will tune in, slow down, and seek
fulfilment in authentic experiences, from
regional cuisine to local traditions and culture,
which make the place what it is.
This offers an opportunity for places to keep
people longer, by offering immersive insights
into their character beyond the brochure.
Safety has been elevated beyond a mere
‘hygiene factor’ in the holiday decision-making
process to a ‘must-have’. It will remain a
concern for months to come.
Travellers will want to know their
intended destination, means of transport,
accommodation, and places they might visit,
all take visitor safety seriously. While hygiene
and safety measures may not be a killer sales
proposition, businesses will almost certainly
be at a competitive disadvantage if they do not
apply them assiduously and communicate this
effectively to potential visitors.
This means hygiene and safety measures will
need to be included up-front in marketing
communications in a way they never have been
before. Malta was ahead of the global curve on
this with its informative and reassuring ‘Sunny
and Safe’ brochure.
Limited availability imposed by social distancing
requirements has necessitated advance booking
for places we used to take for granted and
just turn up – from visitor attractions to cafes,
restaurants, and events.
This has reversed the
previously inexorable trend towards late-booking
and impulse-purchasing. We have got used to no
reservation meaning no entry. We don’t want to
Partly as a result of pent-up demand and partly
‘accidental savings’, many people will be willing
to spend more on their holidays. They may have
to, as the pressure of demand, particularly for
scarcer and increasingly popular self-catering
accommodation, pushes prices up.
Tour operators in the UK are reporting a greater
willingness amongst customers to pay for
upgrades and add-ons to ensure they get the
best slot, sea view, or guaranteed experience.
Expect a greater willingness to splurge on better
quality accommodation, more gastronomic
experiences, finer wines and unusual
experiences. Whether this will continue as a
sustained trend, or merely reflects a celebration
of emergence from domestic incarceration,
remains to be seen.
Global crises have an effect of bringing families
together, as we saw in the USA post-9/11.
For many, who have not seen their parents,
children, grandchildren and other family
members for the best part of a year, the desire
to get together will be powerful.
This is likely
to translate into multi-generational family
holidays, just to see each other again. Missed
Christmas gatherings will be re-enacted,
albeit largely domestically. But the demand for
multi-generational holidays is likely to grow
internationally too over the next couple of
Technology will shrink space and shorten time.
It will also help us feel safer. And it will do all this
from the phone in our pocket. We increasingly
expect to have the world at our fingertips.
No-one wants to touch anything. This
will accelerate contactless and cashless
transactions and personally accessible
information, from hotel check-in and checkout,
transport tickets, and retail purchases, to foodordering,
automatic doors and all types of
information. People will increasingly expect
this all to be accessible on the move 24/7, via
Big data enables quite granular insights into
people’s preferences, locations, and behaviour.
People will expect all information to be bang up
to date, personally relevant and local. This will
be a two-way process. Visitors might search for places to eat nearby that have availability in
an hour. But a vegan restaurant might also push
its availability to any vegans within a 1-hour
radius. The opportunities for clever destination
management and filling trough periods for
businesses are legion.
We may still be far from the sunlit uplands of full
recovery. But, with the clouds of the pandemic
beginning to clear, we can start to see the road
that leads towards that horizon.
Travellers’ priorities are changing, and
becoming much more varied. The much touted
‘new normal’ doesn’t exist. We’re all different.
‘Normal’ is just a setting on the washing
machine. As well as coming to terms with this
we also need to recognise:
• We will have to learn to live with this virus.
• We will need to work hard to make the whole
world safe because, until then, none of us
• We need to plan ahead: for a possible third
wave this autumn; to manage destination
congestion as we are let off the lead; and
for inevitable future crises.
• We need to listen to what people want now.
Yesterday’s habits may not be tomorrow’s
Recovery may take time. But vaccines, political
will, global cooperation, human ingenuity, and
a worldwide love of travel, are the ingredients
that should, together, inspire confidence and,
eventually, help tourism bounce back. There is
no reverse gear to this recovery. It may just take
a year or so to reach top gear.
In the meantime, there is hope for the mediumlong-
term. Here’s to hitting the road again, and
Tom Buncle - Yellow Railroad Ltd
Tom Buncle runs Yellow Railroad Ltd., a Scottish-based international destination consultancy specialising in helping countries, regions, and cities worldwide improve their competitiveness as sustainable tourism destinations.
A former Chief Executive of Visit Scotland, and international manager for Visit Britain, he is also an Honorary Professor at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University. He writes and lectures at international conferences, universities and business schools, on destination branding, crisis recovery, and global travel trends.
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