LONG THINKER PANEL
By Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation
When overtourism was still a hot topic for debate, I’d often think about the fable of the boiling frog. A frog is placed in warm water that’s slowly heated; it doesn’t feel the gradual, incremental change and eventually boils to death. Just before the crisis hit, many of our tourism destinations were looking a lot like scalded amphibians who had enjoyed long warm soaks, but struggled to get out before things got ugly.
By contrast, the current global lockdown has been swift and stark. For destinations experiencing severe undertourism during what should be peak season, the absence of tourism’s wide swath of impacts is sharply in focus. There’s less congestion and less pollution, and the promise that residents might get their cities back before visitors do. Of course there’s also struggling or shuttered businesses, fewer jobs, and a bleak economic outlook for tourism-dependent places.
For destinations experiencing severe undertourism during what should be peak season, the absence of tourism’s wide swath of impacts is sharply in focus.
But I might argue that very little has changed with regards to what’s needed for the long run. Tourism will rebound. It may look different for a while, and it might take on new forms and weird trajectories, but there will eventually be growth again, and we need to better understand the implications of that growth. This includes the cost of servicing demand, the potential for conflict with resident communities and impact on biodiversity, and the unchecked visitor behaviors that are likely to burden our destinations once again without proper innovation and intervention.
[…] There will eventually be growth again, and we need to better understand the implications of that growth.
All economic activities have benefits and drawbacks, but we need to have a very frank discussion about tourism that yields more evidence-based decision-making and ensures a more acceptable trade-off. This is indeed an opportunity to set a new course: a tourism sector mandated by the people and built on a more nuanced understanding of what success looks like. If we can tackle these root issues head on, our beloved tourism sector can eventually maintain a healthy simmer.
The Travel Foundation is avcharity that works in partnership with businesses and governments so that tourism brings greater benefits for people and the environment.