Is the ability to forget the key to bringing back tourism? It is no secret that crises can severely affect travelers perception of whether a destination is worthy of a visit. So how do executives make would-be tourists forget the painful memories of 2020? Or are the travelers just as eager to ffile those memories away and start fresh?
I Forget I Forgot
The good news for the tourism industry is that thanks to months of isolation, our memory skills have deteriorated, and it is highly likely that some (if not all) of the bad things that have happened (individually and collectively) will be forgotten or diminished in intensity, and tourism will flourish once again.
The concept of forgetfulness is an important consideration when hotel, travel and tourism executives discuss consumer postcrisis behavior as they plan a viable marketing strategy. By concentrating on forgetfulness and memory loss and steering away from the idea of risk, industry executives may be able to develop a workable understanding of the cognitive and emotional processes influencing tourist behavior.
It is not a huge leap to acknowledge that the risk perceptions and attitudes towards destinations are impacted by crises. Emergencies and/or disasters can lead to a change in travel plans that may encourage travelers to avoid a destination/attraction, postpone a trip or totally delete the idea of travel from a holiday or business agenda.
Fortunately for the industry, over time, the adverse effects of a crises are forgotten, and a destination recovers as people’s needs, desires and motives to travel take on greater value than the risk and they reallocate time and money to the destination and/or attraction. The change in perception will occur more quickly if tourism executives have taken (or appear to have taken) steps to ameliorate the apparent problems.
Memory and Forgetfulness
The link between memory and forgetfulness comes from Greek mythology. Memory (Mnemosyne) and forgetfulness (Lethe) are represented as two parallel rivers in the underworld of Hades and the personification of the goddesses of Memory and Oblivion.
The souls of the dead were required to drink from the waters of Lethe to forget their early life before being reincarnated, while initiates were encouraged to drink from its counterpart, Mnemosyne, to stop the transgression of the soul as they would remember everything and achieve omniscience. Memory and forgetfulness represent two opposite yet inextricable linked concepts.
As I read the press releases from destination trade associations, hotel groups, airlines and a myriad of hospitality industry public relations consultants, there is the strong belief that 2021 will see a resurgence in tourism, domestically and internationally. Management consulting firms and other research pundits are more cautious, suggesting that the industry will have to wait and watch until the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2021 to see the gates open and tourists repopulate hotels, restaurants, shops and town squares.
Whether the tourism executives realize it or not, what they are counting on, as they tally – up the proposed return on their investments (ROI), is the “hope” that holiday-makers will forget the horrors of 2020 and remember (with smiles and glee), the happy times they experienced in 2019 and earlier. Unfortunately, with this belief at the forefront of their minds, executives are doing very little to make changes in their 2019 inventory and even newly opened hotels are not integrating innovative strategies, technology, anti-microbial fabrics and materials into their operations that could address and ameliorate the health and safety fears of wannabe travelers.
Author Laura Spinney (Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World), found, “If you look back over history, our tendency as human beings has been to forget pandemics as soon as they’ve passed. We cycle through complacent and panic. We panic when the pandemic erupts, then we forget about it, go back to complacency, and we don’t take the necessary steps to ensure we will be better prepared next time.”
A December 2020 study, Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report, found that consumer sentiment about travel has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and attitude towards travel is split between readiness and hesitation with half of Americans not quite ready to leave the comfort of their couch and dust off their passports. Research conducted during the week of December 14, 2020 determined that 55 percent of the Americans surveyed had guilty feelings about travel “right now,” with 50 percent losing all interest in travel “for the time being.” Almost six in 10 (58 percent) believed travel should be limited, exclusively, to essential needs with 50 percent determining that travelers should not come to their communities, “right now.” Motivation to travel is being moved to Q2 of 2021 with 2/3 of Americans finding that the current pandemic makes them less likely to travel over the next three months. The vaccine option is having a positive effect and 50 percent of Americans feel that the vaccine is making them more optimistic in regard to safe travel (ustravel.org).
A study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) (December 2020), found that three out of four respondents expect employees to attend in-person meetings/events in Q2 or Q3, 2021. Three in five members of the GBTA determined that the vaccine was a significant factor in their company’s decision to resume business travel; however, 54 percent of the GBTA member companies remain unsure about their position concerning vaccine availability and the opportunity for rebooting business travel. When a “significant” percentage of the population is vaccinated, one in five companies stated they would allow their employees to travel for work.
Thirty-six percent of North American GBTA respondents said their company has begun planning 2021 meetings/events and more than half are planning small to mid-sized meetings/events for up to 500 attendees. As attendance at in-person events increases hybrid meeting attendance is expected to decline (ustravel.org).
Research suggests that there is pent-up demand for travel. To prepare for a post-COVID-19 economy some national and local government leaders are reevaluating their tourism products and moving from more-to-less tourism, keeping more money in the local economy, and enforcing local regulations that will protect their eco-systems and increase health-related protocols. There will be increased competition for the shrinking tourist dollar with a race to the bottom. All industry sectors will offer deep discounts to fill hotel rooms and airline seats.
Travelers will select destinations, hotels and attractions that promote good governance and a viable health-care system. It is likely the consumer will travel less frequently but stay longer. Travelers may view the pandemic as a forecast of what is to come from the climate crises because of private and public indifference to the issue.
For travelers who head to the airports and airlines – they are likely to find that technology has replaced personal contact, with enhanced sanitization addressing their sanitization qualms; there will be more temperature checks and social distancing and some airlines and airports will continue to require passengers to wear masks.
Domestic travel will see the first tourism increase as people will be able to travel in their own cars, vans or RVs which offer a measure of safety and security. International travel will trickle upwards – sparked by backpackers and budget travelers and others seeking to reconnect with friends and family (foreignpolicy.com; wttc.org).
Are We There Yet?
At the moment – there is NO THERE…There! The Chief Executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, Gloria Guevara, thinks that tourism will rebound beginning in 2022, if all tourism partners can coordinate their actions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts recovery in 2024 and Arnie Sorenson, the Chief Executive of Marriott is optimistic about the resurgence of tourism but uncertain when it will return to 2019 levels.
If we look at the tourism industry from a historical perspective – it is obvious that there will be a rebound. In 2011 Japan had a nuclear disaster (Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant). It took years for travelers to rebuild their trust but when they did, overseas arrivals increased from 13.4 million (2014) to 31.2 million (2018) making Japan the fastest growing destination in the world.
SARS was a terrible experience, as was Ebola – which continues to flourish in Africa; however, safari reservations have not been impacted by the disease. In reality, people forget – making it good news for tourism.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.