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Reinventing tourism post COVID-19

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Business tourism is an increasingly important source of tourism revenue, and conference delegates often use resorts to fill off-peak capacity. With so many now using Zoom conferences, surely demand for business tourism will fall sharply post-COVID-19? This is certainly not a foregone conclusion, and the law of unintended consequences may kick in here. In the early days of the Internet, many predicted that commuting would decline as people worked from home and didn’t need to travel to the office. In fact, working from home wasn’t a binary home or office choice, but most people typically work part of the time at the office and part at home. If you only need to go to the office twice a week, it doesn’t matter if you live a lot further away, so commuting actually increased with the appearance of the long-distance commuter. Could something similar happen post-COVID-19? It is quite likely that more people will work from home. But this may spur a need to bring teams together face-to-face so that they can better identify as a team. And with office space cut back, meeting space may be hired in from hotels and conference centres. This is following a well-trodden path, with many conference facilities already filled with salespeople and other professionals who work from their homes scattered through the country, and meet for regular team meetings at centrally located hotels and conference centres.

We even need to challenge the assumption that business tourism involves a cognitive, rational decision process, and will therefore be replaced by Zoom meetings. Business travel may be important to individuals’ self-esteem and self-image, and may be a status symbol which business people will fight to preserve, regardless of the rational benefits of doing business through videoconferencing. The end of business tourism has been predicted before, but it remains to be seen whether this time round the combined effects of climate change, lingering virus dangers and greater familiarity with online conferencing will encourage firms to eschew the emotional appeal of the face-to-face meeting and instead opt for the socially responsible videoconferencing option.

Tourism has had a habit of reinventing itself over many decades. COVID-19 will not destroy it, and if we look at historical precedent, it is unlikely to dampen long-term demand. Fear and cost may in the short-term restrict the resumption of long distance tourism, but a reinvigorated “staycation” may lead the way.

Published 13th May 2020
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