By Dr. Peter Tarlow

Although 2021 was a somewhat better year than 2020, most people in the tourism industry will not be sad to say adieu to the year that has just ended. We might call the year 2021 a year of hope and despair, a year when we thought we might see an end to the pandemic and a year of false starts.   This past year was not an easy year.  We saw nations once again shutting their borders, Europe experienced a great deal of internal turmoil due to its being open and then closed to tourism. To add to the frustrations found throughout the tourism industry many nations suffered from supply chain failures, high inflation, and a continued decline in customer service.  Crime and terrorism were also a problem, especially in some Western nations. For many people, the new travel restrictions that came with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 were the final straw.  New restrictions, like mushrooms, seem to pop up almost overnight.

From major tourist destinations to rural areas, the travel and tourism industry has become aware that the Covid-19 pandemic is still very much with us and that the travel and tourism industry will have to adjust to new and unique challenges if it is to survive.  As the world’s economies face new challenges, from high inflation to lack of employees,  tourism leaders are having to rethink their assumptions and world views.  It seems hard to believe that only a few short years ago tourism leaders believed that during this new decade no industry, nation, or economy would be an island unto itself.  International tourism was on the rise and many locales, such as Barcelona, Spain, Venice, Italy, or the United States national park system faced was then called “over-tourism”.   Then, almost in the blink of an eye, the world of tourism changed, and the fear of over-tourism became the fight for tourism survival.  How the travel & tourism industry adapts to these new economic and environmental shifts will impact the world’s economy for decades to come.

Two years into the pandemic it has become clear that tourism has no easy solutions. Airplanes might be full one day only to become empty the next, hotels and other places of lodging must now compete for the business traveler with online meetings.  Furthermore, it is not clear how the Covid-19 virus might mutate and what new challenges both tourism officials and public health experts might have to face in 2022.

To help you determine your own strategy Tourism & More presents the following ideas and possible future trends although emphasizing that we live in a highly fluid situation and what might appear logical today might be invalid tomorrow.

In a world beset by high costs, daily regulation changes, and poor service freebees are more important than ever.  Even when people are feeling good about their economic situation travelers still love to receive something for nothing, even if they have to pay for it!  In these challenging times, a welcome drink or cookie, a small gift or souvenir can turn a simple experience into a memorable one. Combine basic costs into the cost of an admission ticket or a free night’s stay.   If hospitality is based on the idea of being taken care of and pampered then charging for extras may be a poor strategy.  Avoid extra sur-charges. In the new world of travel, personal service is essential.

Be appreciative!  All too often tourism businesses act as if they are doing the customers a favor. This is the time to develop creative ways to show appreciation. For example, locales may want to develop “welcome passports” to be used at restaurants and hotels where visitors are provided with a free “extra” as a way of showing appreciation.  Showing appreciation is especially important in an era where long-haul travel may decline.  Tourism businesses will become dependent on local, short-haul and regional travel if they are to survive during the initial recovery phases.  Follow-up letters may also be sent in which the local tourism industry thanks people for visiting. The letters can even be e-letters and used as a way to encourage visitors to return for another visit.

Smiles cost nothing.  The travel and tourism industry might have to cut back on products offered or raise prices, but a smile is a commodity that never runs out and costs the industry nothing. Having employees with dower looks on their faces is the last thing that the travel and tourism industry needs.

Be realistic.  That means keeping up with the news, following guidelines and using common sense.  In these trying times, it is all too easy to become despondent.  Face the world with realistic optimism.  Have confidence in yourself and your industry and be prepared to find creative solutions to whatever problems 2022 might have in store for all of us.  Tourism professionals will have to face reality, begin to prioritize problems and seek solutions one at a time.  Be dignified and honest with both employees and customers. The worst thing to do is to lose credibility.

Inflation means additional travel costs!  In a world where prices rise faster than wages visitors and travelers will be seeking ways to economize.  Travelers and tourists do not see each part of their tourism experience (hotel, transportation, food, attractions) as separate experiences but rather as a unified experience. The tourism industry needs to do the same.  Each of tourism’s components needs to work with the other sectors of the industry to find ways to increase the quality of the tourism experience despite higher prices.  If visitors do not see the total experience as worthwhile, then all of the tourism industry’s components will suffer.

Think local especially in these times of high fuel costs! Consider expanding your market by finding more visitors closer to home. This solution will help not only the local hotel industry but also permit retailers to weather the storm by adding to the community’s economy as tourism revenues from outside of the local region begin to fall.  Buying and featuring local products adds a unique quality to the travel experience.  In areas where there are geographic limitations, such as many island destinations, develop creative pricing, along with creative airport hospitality.

Surveys and asking people to fill out online recommendations can become counter-productive!  Many frequent travelers are over-surveyed and see right through surveys that are designed to avoid negative feedback.  Surveys have become so common in tourism that they have become not only meaningless but a new annoyance. The best surveys are oral surveys where the tourism business not only listens but acts.

Get to know your product again!  Tourism professionals need to rethink what they are selling!  Ask yourself: Are we selling experiences, leisure, rest, or history? Are we selling basic transportation or the travel experience?  How does our business fit into the total travel experience in this post-Covid-19 world?  Do our past marketing efforts reflect current realities?

The last impression is often the lasting impression, so consider being creative when people leave a destination. For example, hotels can give a restaurant coupon to departing guests, passport controls can hand out a come-back soon brochure or gas stations can offer a free cup of coffee for the road.  The cost of the item is a lot less important than the memory and positive word-of-mouth advertising that it will create.

The Tourism & More staff wished everyone a happy and successful 2022