What is Resilient Tourism?  

Understanding the definition of resilience and tourism helps to get a sense of it, but simply said, ‘resilient tourism’ refers to the practice of reducing risk for destinations and tourism businesses, and anticipating future shocks. It is not a secret that the past years have been the most challenging ever for the international travel sector. The UNTWO declared that the pandemic caused a 72% drop in international travel with 1.1 billion fewer international tourists in 2020. 

While countries were striving to respond in a state of shock and in a constant global health crisis, the travel sector was grounded to a halt, disrupting every sector-related business activities and placing over 100 million employees out of work. Thankfully, the nightmare seems to have come to its end, with international tourism reaching 57% of pre-pandemic levels between January and July of this current year.  

When crises like COVID-19 hit an industry as large as travel and tourism, industry stakeholders must not only implement recovery strategies to survive but also be able to learn from the past and adapt to change. In other words, bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels worldwide will not be a satisfactory response to the crisis. What is needed is to rely on past data to build on the future, or at least to prevent future disruptions and strengthen the sector.   

Resilience is effective when stakeholders can withstand challenges and become stronger. Besides, when resilience is taken into account, the way to sustainability is much easier and more reliable in the long run. One must not forget that threat levels remain high for the tourism industry, whether it be a shock due to another global pandemic, geopolitical conflicts like the war in Ukraine leading to inflation, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, or the increasingly alarming climate change and its dramatic consequences. 

Therefore, the Swiss travel sector has all the necessary incentives to rebuild on resilience and to preserve its stakeholders.  

Tourism resilience and innovation – a national call

Resilience can be defined or approached differently depending on the risks that one country or destination is exposed to. Some places will be more subject to natural disasters or climate such as the vulnerable Small Island Developing States (SIDS), while others might need to adapt to new visitor markets (like Greece and Cyprus whose markets depend on Russian arrivals) or build stronger communities. In Switzerland, tourism resilience is currently being studied and built around innovation.    

On September 1, 2021, the Swiss Federal Council adopted a recovery program which aimed at stimulating demand and maintaining the capacity for innovation with the support of Innotour. As the Swiss travel sector is predicted to reach pre-pandemic levels by the winter season 2023-2024, all eyes are now focused on data, thus technology, as an innovation pillar for ensuring the resilience, efficiency, and sustainability of the travel and tourism industry. 

Datafication in tourism – the benefits

The Federal Statistical Office regularly offers an overview of the tourism sector, enabling industry stakeholders to make efficient data-driven decisions and carry out predictive analyses. The data collected allows for the analysis of visitor behavior, tourism flows, economic impact and any other variables key to policy-making and business strategies. Further field surveys and future forecasts also provide a vast amount of information used for the development of the Swiss travel sector.  

But how can data create more resilience and sustainability? The COVID-19 crisis has called for a radical transformation of the industry – and technology is already in the loop to enhance customer experience. New methods and resilient systems are also crucial to strengthening the industry against future outbreaks and prepare for real-time changes. 

Meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring a sustainable future for the industry is also a priority for every government. Data should be included when designing better policies – e.g., ‘smart cities’ which demonstrate how data collection and analysis can shape development and identify paths of improvement.  

Datafication can take the Swiss travel market to another level, ensuring the availability and accessibility of accurate and timely data, much in line with the Swiss identity. The future of tourism relies on how efficiently data will be collected, monitored, analyzed and used for improving visitors’ experiences and developing appropriate strategies. Here are just a few examples of how data can improve business processes in tourism:  

  • Understand visitors: Data is commonly used for identifying market profiles, tourist flows, tourist behaviors, sector contribution and other key variables in marketing strategies. From these data analyses, there is a possibility for much more dynamic and personalized services and products, since businesses can get much more precise information to provide the right service at the right moment. Just think about how all the streaming platforms such as TikTok or Netflix have built their business models based on data collection and precise intelligent recommendations. 
     
  • Provide quality experiences: Whether for digitizing and facilitating processes in the travel sector through the use of technology or for improving customer experience by analyzing the customer journey, there is a constant need for data analysis to create additional value and optimize the co-created travel experience.  
     
  • Shape policy-making: Through quicker availability, appropriate interpretation and better use of data, more efficient policies can be developed to support the evolution of the sector. The amount of data available is infinite, but focusing on real-time, accurate and targeted data allows government institutions and businesses to make impactful decisions adapted to customers’ fast-evolving needs and socio-economic requirements.  

To sum up, there is so much that can be done in the tourism industry with data and technology solutions, including opening the way towards resilience and adaptability. Indeed, the more data our tourism businesses have access to, the more they will be prepared to not only predict but also face another global crisis.  

The good news is that the Swiss travel sector is already on board with a CHF 5.5 million flagship project funded by Innosuisse. The purpose of the Resilient Tourism project is to address the challenges of digital transformation by supporting the datafication of the travel sector across the country, through the creation of a National Data Infrastructure and resilient digitally supported services, business processes and business models. 

At the EHL Hospitality Business School, we are proud to participate in this national initiative along with five other academic institutions and more than 30 industry partners to shape the digital future of the industry, as well as to foster cross-fertilization of communities of practice.  

Calling for digital innovation projects!  

The majority of the travel sector is represented by SMEs, which must also be supported to achieve the national digital transformation. If you recognize yourself here, the Resilient Tourism Flagship needs your contributions! Would you like to contribute to the digital innovation strategy of the Vaud tourism sector with your SME?

The EHL Hospitality Business School, the Service de la promotion de l’économie et de l’innovation du canton de Vaud (SPEI) and Vaud Promotion are launching a call for projects to promote digital innovation within tourism SMEs in the canton of Vaud. Selected projects will be awarded CHF 5,000 and will benefit from the coaching expertise of the EHL network or an external consultant to take innovative projects to another level.

Are you ready to become our next representative of tourism innovation at a local and a national level and build resilience with us? Do you have some ideas and would like to concretize them?

Please check out our website and apply before December 23, 2022.

For more information and to get support in shaping up your idea, contact us at  [email protected]. We will gladly help turn your ideas into action!

WRITTEN BY:

  • Maggie Meng-Mei Chen, Assistant Professor at EHL Hospitality Business School, HES-SO
  • Alessandro Inversini, Associate Professor at EHL Hospitality Business School, HES-SO
  • Amélie Keller, Flagship Project Coordinator, EHL Hospitality Business School, HES-SO