SINGAPORE: Tourism trends during the COVID-19 pandemic are changing. Take Baguio and Tagaytay as examples.
A recent Airbnb survey found that a majority of Filipino travelers wanted to visit these lesser-known getaways than regular tourist spots like Boracay. This finding is consistent with the shift in tourism preferences that is occurring elsewhere.
Popular Hawaiian Getaways and Napa County California saw their bookings drop 75% and 50% respectively.
Another survey of more than 2,000 Americans by a financial company found that two-thirds of those travelers avoided major cities because of COVID-19 issues.
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What explains these trends? Clearly, the pandemic has changed the behavior of tourists and produced new consumption patterns.
The way people travel and the activities they will undertake while traveling will be very different from the pre-COVID-19 era.
On the one hand, many travelers are increasingly citizens of a country rather than international tourists.
People are also increasingly risk averse. They tend to refrain from traveling to large cities, entering crowded spaces, and participating in large group activities.
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As a result, less traffic is heading to famous travel spots, but more visitors are flocking to places off the beaten path.
RETHINKING TOURISM: SEE THE PLACES SMALL TOWN
For decision-makers, the trends lead to rethinking the way to manage the tourism industry in such a new environment.
While reopening is a logical solution to helping these economies recover from losses caused by the pandemic, it is not straightforward.
At this point in the pandemic, reopening mega-cities to visitors like Bangkok, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney won’t do much to boost tourism.
Future trends dictate that future hotspots will likely be a mix of old and new attractions. As Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky noted, “San Francisco will come back, New York will come back, but the playing field is now level.” In short, among the likely winners there will be smaller towns whose names have been less well known.
The promotion of tourism in small municipalities offers advantages other than the generation of direct tourism income. On the one hand, it increases women’s participation in economies.
The 2019 World Tourism Organization report found that 54% of the tourism workforce were women, compared to 39% in the broader economy, and women in this industry earned more than those in the industry. ‘a larger economy. This therefore reduces gender inequalities and supports inclusive growth.
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This tourism offers the possibility of “testing the market” of local products such as specialized crafts and exotic herbs. Local entrepreneurs can identify products with potential for promotion in larger markets.
This type of trip also helps preserve the cultural heritage of particular communities, such as sophisticated artifacts and tribal tea-brewing skills, which would otherwise have vanished within a decade.
Tourism has proven to recover these elements, ranging from the sophisticated wood carving techniques of the Asmat – a tribal minority residing in the Indonesian province of Papua, to the elaborate textiles and hats made by Akha villagers living in the northern mountains. from Thailand.
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ROLE OF GOVERNMENTS IN SUPPORTING LOCAL TOURISM
Governments have a big role to play if such nascent shoots of new vacation experiences are to meet expectations.
Some are already innovating by improving the skills and standards of local communities that welcome visitors and whose lifestyles are often of interest to curious visitors and eco-tourists. In these areas, new inter-agency cooperation is helping to identify new ways of working with and providing assistance to residents.
Mae Kampong, a small village in the northeast of Thailand’s Chiang Mai province, has successfully grown into a community tourism destination, thanks to cooperation between the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Ministry of Labor.
While the former has helped villagers achieve certification standards for host families, the latter has trained homestay hosts to improve their hospitality.
Standardization can be essential in providing new travel opportunities that are competitive in terms of price, service levels and quality. In this regard, public officials should create a tourism certification system ensuring that service providers meet certain quality and quality standards, enhancing consumer confidence.
Agents can, for example, take advantage of existing global frameworks offered by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), an international body that accredits sustainable tourism.
The government of Costa Rica unveiled in 1997 its certification for sustainable tourism recognized by the GSTC. This has allowed the authorities to increase the number of visitors to small towns such as La Fortuna.
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While savvy travelers also search for information and places to stay online, governments should consider creating a single online service platform to connect vacationers with service providers.
Since out-of-town travelers often struggle to find the products and services offered by local hosts, some governments have also found the deployment of platforms to be helpful in matching companies’ products to needs and needs. to customer requests while promoting unusual places.
Vietnamese authorities have added a one-stop service portal where tourists can browse a list of lesser-known destinations such as Ninh Binh and Mai Chau and learn more about the products and services they offer.
Financial support has also been a lever to help cash-strapped local entrepreneurs start new businesses, who otherwise would not be able to participate in this tourism industry on their own.
The village of Cangfang in China’s Henan Province, once a poor town, has since been transformed into one of the country’s hidden rural tourist gems.
Interest-free government loans and grants have helped local families maintain their bed and breakfasts for out-of-town travelers, and a wildlife park has been established amidst rugged mountains and lush bamboo forests.
COVID-19 reminds us that in every crisis there are great opportunities. During this unprecedented time, taking the road less traveled may be a wise move for governments looking to shake up economies.
International tourist arrivals may be declining across the world. But for small rural villages in China, the Philippines, and most large countries, this may be just the start of a nascent domestic tourism market.
Dr Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit is Deputy Director and Assistant Professor at the Center for Multilateralism Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.