At the beginning of April, the World Tourism Organization released a comprehensive report that looks at how the industry can manage the current crisis, recover and move forward.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit travel and tourism hard,” the report states. “It nevertheless offers a rare opportunity for reflection and recalibration to grow again, and to grow better for planet and people.” There might be ways to look at a crisis as a unique opportunity.
New Zealand is one example of a destination that has been hit particularly hard by the shutdown and one that will feel the effects for a long time. A relatively small nation in a remote corner of the world, almost all travel here requires a long-haul international flight – and at this stage it is impossible to say when that kind of travel will resume.
But Professor James Higham, a sustainable tourism expert from the University of Otago, believes there can be positive outcomes. He told Radio New Zealand, “we have the opportunity to stop and think and we have the opportunity to rebuild a more sustainable tourism system”. Given that the entire tourism industry will have to be rebooted, he likes to think of it “in terms of rewiring the tourism system. If you think of rewiring a house, it’s a huge commitment, a huge cost and a significant undertaking, but it’s much easier to wire the house when you’re rebuilding the house”.
The WTO agrees – “this opportunity should also be taken to place tourism at the centre of national policies and ensure sustainability is an integral part of the sector as it recovers and grows again.” The changes we make now could impact the industry – and the world – for decades to come. “We have an opportunity for disruption at this time to reimagine and build a future-proofed tourism industry that will help solve climate change issues to 2050 and well beyond that,” Higham believes.