THE PANDEMIC PERMANENTLY CHANGED TRAVEL & TOURISM AS WE KNEW IT
Working towards a new tourism model based on sustainability, investments and digitalization.Throughout the long history of Greek tourism, a series of smaller or larger crises have affected its long-term dynamic, yet never such extraordinary occasions like the pandemic, have interrupted its constant progression and development.2020 was an unprecedented year, as it was the worst year for global tourism, bearing no comparison to any other. According to the latest figures from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international arrivals in Greece went down by 74% vs 2019, while destinations worldwide received 1.1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to the vast decline in demand and extensive travel restrictions.
Inevitably Greece did not remain unaffected since it recorded a decrease of 76.5%, recording 7.4 million arrivals, compared to 31.3 million in 2019. But the crisis also marked a positive impact. Greece has been ranked as the fifth best tourism brand in 2020, according to the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index (NBI), which reveals the consumers’ level of interest in visiting a country and the draw of natural and man-made tourist attractions. As Anholt quotes “since a powerful and positive ‘brand image feeds directly into more tourism, more trade, more talent and more investment, such considerations should be right at the top of any government’s economic planning”. The aforementioned success, was the result of the successful strategy followed by the close partnership of the private and public sector, which resulted to the soft re-opening of the Greek travel industry, with safety, professionalism and strict protocols
This crisis constitutes an opportunity for the sector to transform and become more resilient, broad, and sustainable. Although the current situation has made tourism sector extremely vulnerable, at the same it is a unique occasion to draft plans and actions that will be the basis for the new tourism era. Is a given that tourism represents development opportunities, promotes solidarity and understanding beyond borders, while domestic tourism also helps to foster cohesion within nations.
The change of the tourist model with all these new products, sounds more realistic for several destinations, but at the same time, it presupposes timely actions and risk-taking by the private sector in principle. In the short term, domestic and regional holidays, as well as rural- outdoor travelling, are expected to dominate. Travelers will prefer to go in smaller groups, choosing more secluded areas, while the security of each destination will significantly influence their decisions. International travelers will be very interested in all these parameters of sustainable relationship of tourism with the environment and the local community, while at the same time the way they travel, seems to change.
It’s the right time for the tourism sector around the world to seize the opportunity and proceed with substantial changes that will transform the world and make a difference for future generations. It is the time to build a better tourism product, with authenticity, moderation and aesthetics. This implies long-term and holistic thinking with regards to the challenges of our world, and thus connect with the need for transition towards a more sustainable tourism model based on social inclusion and the protection of the environment.
Our main focus and where we should set as our priority from now on, are key elements that are already part of our tourism product like authenticity, sustainability, human element, nature, local experiences, culture, gastronomy and engaging with local communities in a safe and respectful way. All of the above are becoming more important concepts than before the pandemic, while provide a substantial advantage to the country’s tourism product, as the constitute an integral part of the Greek hospitality. Another crucial element is the need for the tourism industry to adapt to new technologies to improve customer experience and increase its competitiveness, as the way visitors make decisions has changed and we can no longer rely on meeting the visitor where they are simply accessing information. The need for digital transformation is dominant, while leveraging digital excellence has never been more important.
The multi-dimensional nature of the tourism sector needs to move towards and adopt to the innovative and challenging business after COVID-19 environment. Today onwards there will be an increasing demand for transparency regarding health protocols, safety, data and security during the travels and at final destinations.
Therefore, a significant level of investment will be required to support increasing traveler volumes and changing consumer behaviors. This will create several investment opportunities from traditional investments like accommodation infrastructure to flexible infrastructure like digital solutions and support services around experiences and sustainability in a post COVID-19 reality.
Provided that all of the country’s productive sectors work jointly, Greece will be enabled to successfully building a modern, interconnected and sustainable development model, and thus grasp business opportunities and create value chains and networking. The country’s tourism sector is “present” in order reinforce the future of the national economy, as well as of the entire country.
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