Corona Pandemic: What it Means for the Sustainable Tourism Community

Published 01/04/2020
Implications of Coronavirus pandemic for sustainable tourism community

Implications of Coronavirus pandemic for sustainable tourism community

Corona, the pandemic, is turning our world upside down – at least the parts many believe to be the most important: our personal freedom and the economy. Over the last weeks I’ve been in close (virtual) contact with many members of our expert panel and the wider Sustainability Leaders community. And while we all seem to be impacted financially by the situation – some businesses severely (thankfully most seem to be doing fine health-wise), I’ve been surprised by the crisis-resistant answers and almost optimistic attitudes of many, sensing a unique opportunity for finally making the right moves towards a more sustainable tourism.

Curious about how the crisis impacts the sustainable tourism community and which potential benefits it may bring at a systemic level, I created a short survey to find out more – greatly assisted by Dillon from the TPBO team (The Place Brand Observer is our sister publication).

Below a few statements from answers and a summary of what respondents shared (you are most welcome to add your own views in the comment section below).

We asked:

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your work or business?

Certain operations have seen a decline in business by up to 90%, while other individuals have been able to adapt and shift focus. Circumstances are both location and time dependent. An Albanian adventure tourism operator is seeing considerable reduction in work, while cancellations continue to rise. The founder/owner acknowledges the loss of the spring season, noting the harsh impact this will have on hospitality professionals in various destinations. In the wake of fear, lodging establishments are questioning hotel marketing consultants on the proper reaction to mass cancellations and closures. The Head of Tourism Technical Office of the Barcelona Regional Council remarks the near shutdown of restaurants and hotels, approaching 0% occupancy.

The primary issue for an Antalya-based freelancer is the challenge of limited mobility, while the majority of flights are cancelled in and out of Turkey (as in most other places).

Sierra Leone enacted travel restrictions as well as bans on public gatherings prior to confirming any cases, as they had been announced in all neighboring states. In a similar situation, Argentina takes health-conscious preventative measures, which are greatly impacting the tourism industry. An account manager of incoming tourism (Europe) highlights the closure of all nonessential operations at this time in Patagonia, until at least April 5th.

We asked:

How are you adapting to this situation in your day-to-day work/life?

A Nepali managing director positively notes their corporate policy of consistently having enough financial means on reserve to pay staff and to maintain operating costs for six months. Past crises proved this tactic necessary, and now they are fortunate to be prepared; the team is able to turn focus towards maintenance, staff training and extended paid leave.

Reactive approaches include: client assistance, reprogramming and negotiating cancellation fees by account managers and tourism professionals. All done via online communications. The Barcelona Tourism Department is rescheduling actions to maximize the competitiveness of the destination and its companies. Marketing efforts are sensitized to transmit messages of peace and reassurance that travel will not only recover but will be used to recover.

Industry leaders are making their best attempt to postpone, rather than cancel. Those who can withstand financial hardship will have the opportunity to prioritize product development and innovation.

We asked:

“Never waste a good crisis” – so the saying goes. How is COVID-19 pandemic perhaps even leading to positive outcomes or opportunities for cities, destinations, regions or countries?

The Planning and Development Specialist for the National Tourist Board of Sierra Leone is determined to improve and better integrate the health system with the current tourism infrastructure.

Tourism flows will slowly recover, but there are predictions of increased interest in national versus international tourism, also in respect of the lower carbon footprint.

Turkey has seen a considerable increase in air quality due to flight limitations, indicating perhaps a shift towards a more sustainable tourism. An account manager from Argentina notes the possibility of a long-term change in mentality of travelers, avoiding mass tourism destinations, while in the short-term, operators are focused on containment and making themselves available to offer sustainable alternatives as part of best marketing practices.

This crisis will result in rethinking management of oversaturated destinations, improved communication, and a stronger implementation of online communication.

Putting to the test the resilience of small businesses, this time of emergency is an opportunity to focus on bouncing back stronger. Those amid crisis management must acknowledge the challenge the tourism industry is facing.

The sooner the pandemic ceases, the greater the hunger will be to travel as compensation for lost leisure time. However, the longer it lasts the greater the economic hardship on private households, who will have little to no money to invest in tourism post COVID-19.

“Less pollution; moment to catch breath and see that unbridled growth and cheapest-option sourcing aren’t the only options.” – Journalist/Editor (Tasmania, Australia)

There’s a feeling among survey respondents that this shock was needed, as a wakeup call for the urgently necessary change in how we do things – and to ensure long-term human survival.

A spread in awareness of the current state of the Planet brings hope that we might at last be forced into a systematic change, and take our social responsibility serious.


What does the future hold? A much stronger focus on sustainability: understand what it means, learn how it’s done, be prepared and resilient for when the next crisis hits (as it will).

In the tourism business, lack of  time is one of the main barriers preventing professionals from catching up on sustainability strategies and examples. Sustainability is not a “nice to have” skill or asset. It’s really better to understand sustainability as your life insurance, your lifebelt: something you need to safely navigate the often unpredictable and sometimes stormy waters of tourism.

Seriously, seize this opportunity. Take a deep breath and, for example, check our panel’s recommendation of online courses on sustainability and tourism.

Who responded to the survey?

Managing Director, Journalist/Editor, Head of Tourism Technical Office, Planning and Development Specialist (National Tourist Board), Tourism Auditor/Advisor, Expert for European Commission, Associate Professor, Hotel Marketing Consultant, Account Manager Incoming Tourism, Founder/Owner Adventure Tourism Operator, Eco Guest Service Manager