This “pandemic” year gave us all more time to think and reflect on the weaknesses of our established ways. Among sectors that were forced to engage in a deep re-think is the travel & tourism industry.
Along with airlines, tour operators, hotels and cruise lines, destinations also had the chance to take stock and identify aspects of their development that had gone awry and needed redirection. Already we see destinations that were previously facing over-tourism challenges doing exactly that. A good example is Venice that was receiving as many visitors annually as the whole of Greece. This overwhelming popularity became a poison with devastating effects on social cohesion, local quality of life, cultural integrity and destination value. The city is definitely taking a revised stand on tourism with a much more value oriented protective model.
A similar example at a much smaller scale is Santorini, Greece’s most identifiable icon. Everyone dreams about going there until they do and face an overwhelmed place that ultimately betrays their expectations. I can vouch for that from the cruise line feedback we were getting every summer!
In Greece long term value awareness is often lacking in both public and private sector thinking and that is evident in the development models – or lack thereof – that were followed in some of our most valuable destinations. The lull of the pandemic is an opportunity for all destinations to set new visions for their future in tourism. Destination value should be the most important consideration for all future planning, because it is the core element that determines sustainability and potential investment performance. Real estate, tourism development, hotel rates and even cruise calls hinge on a destination’s ability to protect, preserve and upgrade its value, both perceived and actual.
However, the pursuit of higher destination value requires wide ranged public and private synergies that can ensure environmental protection, cultural integrity, timely infrastructure development and well regulated development planning and quality control. As long as there is a clear vision for the future, every destination can achieve some level of improvement and enter the “new normality” with better aimed goals.
The emerging post pandemic travel & tourism trends will be determined by many factors, obviously including airlift that will be a medium term problem for Greece, given that it is predominantly accessed by air. There are clear signs that premium and upscale markets will move very fast in the mid-term and we certainly see that in the cruise industry. In any case, Greece should focus on those markets with greater commitment, because the pandemic created a unique opportunity by allowing the time to revise direction and break away even further from the mass market model that haunts us. When the world fully returns to open travel, possibly in (about) two to three years, other more competitive players will be attracting the mass market more effectively. Let us not forget that Greece was hitting unprecedented arrival numbers in recent years mainly because geopolitical reasons knocked out Turkey and other low cost destinations.
Greece should grab the opportunity of this gradual world restart to adjust its value vision and aim higher in earnest, to establish a profile that will be far more profitable for all sectors involved in tourism. This means focusing on emerging trends in travel, new demographics that are rapidly taking over and the fast growth of high income markets. It takes boldness to envision a radical departure from “established ways”, but therein lies Greece’s future success in tourism.
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