It is undeniable that tourism activity brings a number of benefits to the community where it is carried out, and those of us who work in tourism are well aware of this. And I am not only referring to economic benefits, which is also true, but to benefits and advantages of all kinds.
Unfortunately, tourism can also cause disadvantages or negative impacts. Sometimes these negative impacts are not intentional, but are caused by the development of the activity itself and as a result of a lack of planning or attention to certain aspects.
There is also an undeniable human tendency not to learn from the past and to make the same mistakes over and over again.
The desire to discover new territories, to interact with other cultures, to travel, is something inherent to human beings and has been present throughout humanity. This is why tourism has shown itself to be an extremely resilient activity that has been able to overcome all kinds of adverse situations.
After the great journeys of the pioneers of tourism at the beginning of the 20th century, the generation to which I belong has experienced the greatest development of tourist activity ever experienced on the planet.
EVOLUTION OF TOURISM
According to the World Tourism Organisation, the number of international tourists rose from 25 million in 1950 to 700 million in 2000, and in the following 20 years this figure doubled, reaching 1.5 billion international tourists in 2019 (pre-pandemic year), surpassing its forecasts of a few years ago.
The evolution of tourism activity over the years shows this sustained upward trend, only truncated by global episodes such as the oil crises in 1973 and 1979, the Gulf War in 1990, the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York in 2001, the global financial crisis generated by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and now the effects of the global pandemic of AIDS-19.
Tourism has always survived these global events. It remains to be seen how the current situation affects the growth forecasts shown in the image.
Many and varied factors have influenced this spectacular growth in international tourist movements, but they can be summarised in the following five.
SPAIN AS AN EXAMPLE OF TOURISM DEVELOPMENT
Let us take Spain as an example, a country that went from suffering a civil war and being largely closed to the outside world for a long period under a dictatorial regime, to becoming the world's second largest tourist destination in terms of both international tourist arrivals and tourism revenues. These five points are:
Development of certain countries: the progressive increase in disposable income and leisure time of consumers, as economic development takes place, an increase in the standard of living, of the welfare society. The countries of central and northern Europe became the main source markets, with greater purchasing power than the Spanish, thanks to more advanced development and with currencies of greater value than the local currency.
The emergence and development in the 1970s and 1980s of so-called mass tourism, which was characterised by:
The emergence of the then all-powerful Tour Operators: large groups that brought together a wide network of travel agencies, many of them also owning airlines and hotel chains.
The tour operators invented the sale of packages that included transport, accommodation, guide and consultant services, activities... at a fixed price.
They offered convenient payment facilities for these packages.
By working in high volume, they can offer cheaper prices and at the same time make high profits.
These were times of greater demand than supply. The large tourist groups offered all kinds of aid for the construction of hotels in various parts of Spain to accommodate an ever-increasing number of tourists.
The emergence of low-cost airlines. Although they appeared in the USA around the 1970s, they emerged in Europe in the early 1990s. These airlines offered a significant reduction in the selling price of airline tickets by removing some extra services such as in-flight meal menus, lowering a certain level of aircraft comfort and reducing boarding and disembarkation times and operations, among others.
If mass tourism opened up the possibility of going on holiday to middle and lower-middle class people, the appearance of these so-called low-cost airlines (the first to operate in Europe were Ryanair and Easyjet) made air travel accessible to practically all pockets, whereas previously airline tickets (without packages, but as a single service) were still very expensive and therefore reserved for those with a certain purchasing power.
These two points together led to the democratisation of travel and, although different levels of travel, from top luxury to standard category, have continued to coexist to this day, they gave access to travel and tourism to a large part of society.
4. The arrival of the Internet at the end of the 1990s in the world in general and in the tourism sector in particular generated a real revolution, especially in the distribution of tourism products and services. A revolution that still exists today.
The selection and booking of all types of travel and tourism services: planes, trains, boats, hotels, excursions, additional services... everything can be done from a smartphone in the palm of your hand.
Today's customer has become an expert when it comes to searching, comparing and finally buying the best option for him. I am not necessarily referring only to price, but to finding the offer that best suits their needs.
Technology, from the perspective of service providers, has also contributed enormously to making operations easier, more efficient, and in most cases, cheaper.
5. Tourist use of homes: driven by the rise of platforms such as Airbnb, many homes (flats, flats, houses, rural properties...) are now being marketed as homes for tourist use (whether urban, rural or holiday). Owners obtain a higher return on their homes by renting them out through this modality than with traditional rentals. This has two consequences:
On the one hand, from a supply perspective: it significantly increases the supply of accommodation to accommodate tourists, so that certain destinations suddenly become able to receive a much larger number of tourists without having the infrastructures prepared for it.
On the other hand, it reduces the supply of affordable residential housing for the local community (unless they inherit property from their relatives, it is very difficult to live in the region), as well as for people from other regions (having to spend a large part of their salary on accommodation).
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF TOURISM
This unstoppable development of tourist activity has had undesirable consequences in some tourist destinations:
Gentrification: a process whereby the population of certain territories (or neighbourhoods of cities) is displaced by other inhabitants of a higher socio-economic level. The case of Amsterdam, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.
The Venice Syndrome: cities that become a stage or a film set for tourists, but where very few people actually live (because they have left the city or the region because life is becoming too difficult) (https://somosviajeros.com/blog/que-es-el-sindrome-de-venecia-y-ejemplos-de-lugares-que-lo-sufren.html https://notihoteles.com/venecia-convertido-en-parque-tematico-sus-habitantes-cansados-del-turismo-de-masas/)
Tourismphobia: An aversion to tourism and tourists by the local resident community in an area that occurs when the disadvantages of tourist activity outweigh the advantages of tourism. It is very well explained in this article: https://www.ostelea.com/actualidad/blog-turismo/tendencias-en-turismo/turismofobia-que-es-causas-y-ejemplos
Environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity: This occurs when, due to the intensive use of tourist activity in a territory, and its carrying capacity is far exceeded, the environmental balance is broken and the environment deteriorates, including the disappearance of animal and plant species. Example: Beach in Thailand: https://www.lavanguardia.com/ocio/viajes/20220110/7977957/maya-bay-playa-tailandia-leonardo-dicaprio-reabre-turismo.html
Concentration of tourism in certain geographical areas and during certain months of the year (seasonality).
Excessive construction: in Spain, with the development of mass tourism, a process known as "balearisation" took place in which there is an excessive consumption of land, normally in premium locations on the seafront or very close to tourist attractions. The result is that the vast majority of these premium areas are used for tourist establishments (accommodation, shows, restaurants, leisure) and there is no space left for the local population to enjoy the views, stroll around the area, etc.).
These negative impacts could endanger the very survival of the tourist destination, since on the one hand, the tourist resources that attracted the demand would be lost and on the other hand, the quality of the tourist experience would be affected, who would look for another destination for their next trips.
In addition to the above, experience has shown two things about tourism:
That on (too) many occasions it is a good generator, but a bad distributor of economic benefits. Think for example of the case of Cancun, Mexico, where the proliferation of "all-inclusive" establishments means that the income from tourism stays in the hands of a few, the owners of these hotels, while it brings very little business to the restaurants, leisure activities, shops, etc.) in the area where they are located.
That, despite the fact that tourist activity is growing and growing, businesses complain that the situation is bad and that they are not earning as much as they had hoped. This is due to the fact that the offer (hotels, transport companies, shops, restaurants, casinos, shows...) is growing at the same level as the tourist activity itself. In this way, although the pie is getting bigger and bigger, the pie has to be divided among more and more people, resulting in more pieces of the pie, but smaller and smaller.
PERSONAL THESIS ON THE CURRENT SITUATION OF TOURISM
At this point I would like to insist on what I said at the beginning of this text. The benefits of tourism are many and very important. The points we have just seen in the previous section are real dangers, which must be taken into account when managing the development of tourism in communities, regions and countries.
This development of tourism activity has obviously not occurred to the same extent or at the same speed in all countries and regions of the world. On the contrary, different levels of development coexist in the world at the same time.
Moreover, it could even be counterproductive to skip stages of this development that have been undergone by what are now called mature destinations. It is good to evolve towards different stages of development, both from the point of view of supply and demand.
Recently, in a conversation with an executive from a technology company in the field of tourism, this very subject came up and gave me food for thought. This person, a native of an Eastern European country, but living and working in Germany, argued that his country of origin wanted to enjoy the model of tourism that the developed countries of Central and Northern Europe enjoyed 40 years ago.
He argued that his country had reached a level of economic development that allowed them to do so, a socio-economic level that they lacked in those years of the 1970s, and that they had every right to enjoy it now, because it was an appropriate model for their current situation, just as it was at the time for more developed countries.
Further information on the need for a sustainable approach to tourism development can be found in the following article, published a few years ago by the author: https://medcraveonline.com/AHOAJ/dianmond-model-a-theoretical-framework-for-the-sustainable-development-of-tourism.html.
We also said at the beginning that human beings have a tendency to stumble over the same stone and to repeat over and over again the mistakes that have been made.
The above has been presented in a condensed and summarised form so as not to bore the reader, and I will be happy to discuss, explore and develop them in the unbeatable framework of the Tourism and Society Think Tank.
The above leads to the outcome of this document, which is nothing more than my personal vision of what I humbly think should be taken into account in terms of tourism development in destinations from the post COVID 19 pandemic onwards.
Factors to consider
Based on what we see happening, it seems that tourism will continue to develop whatever happens on our planet (and many on both the supply and demand side will continue to act as if nothing has happened).
Motivations, fashions and preferences change, but tourism continues.
Tourists and destinations at different stages of development coexist over time.
A destination that has been successful for a long time can become unsuccessful and disappear, just as new destinations can appear.
A destination that does not plan properly can die of success.
The market of supply and demand always tends to find a balance.
Human development implies progress and every activity produces an ecological footprint, which ideally should be minimised.
TIPS FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF TOURIST DESTINATIONS
Make an inventory of resources of all kinds that can be used as tourist attractions and then convert these resources into tourism products.
Base destination management on the three dimensions of sustainability.
Plan tourism development: zones, classification, typology.
Form a tourist destination management body.
Forming a tourism destination promotion body
Build the necessary infrastructure to accommodate tourism: airport, port, road transport, tourist information offices...
Encourage public-private participation in tourism management.
Take all parties into account: employers, workers, residents, etc.
Establish limits for tourist uses
Set aside areas of environmental interest
Take care not to exceed the carrying capacity of the destination.
Diversify economic activities (tourism should not be the only economic activity).
Involve other activities in tourism: use of local products in food and beverages, handicrafts, landscape, culture
Protect local culture and customs
Implement good training programmes for the tourism sector: languages, attitudes, skills. Continuous, specific and adapted training for workers.
Use technology for destination management
Do not lose sight of the mistakes made in other tourist destinations.
Editor of Spain Tourism Hub
President of Skal International Madrid
Member of the Panel of Tourism Experts of the UNWTO
Member of the Spanish Association of Hotel Managers
Professor of Higher Programmes in Tourism Management and International Hotel Management
and Head of Customer Experience Management at Paradores de Turismo.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.