Questioning the Sustainability of Travel

It is all over the news that the current pandemic will affect the future. Yet, it is uncertain to which extend we will face the challenges and difficulties the whole situation will bring to the tourism industry. Admittedly, it can be said that damage to international tourism arrivals will be severe. And this does not only lead to a direct impact on tourism businesses like the accommodation sector, airline industry, and gastronomy. The whole economy could be affected by the indirect aspects tourism typically brings with it to benefit the local economy. In general, the regional multiplier tourism causes can be seen from a reverse perspective now. The decrease in tourism arrival leads to people losing their jobs, not getting their ordinary income. However, many people who still receive about 80% of their income might save more money now that, because of the quarantine, can not be spent for leisure. Anyway – it is a matter of fact that globally, the travel and tourism sector is predicted to face a loss of 100.8 million jobs. We can only guess that the pandemic’s impact will be very noticeable; however, it might also be an excellent opportunity to reconsider how business has been done over the last years. How can international flights be less expensive than a national bus or train ride? How did companies sustain that had no additional money on the side to survive over a three-month-long crisis? 

In 2019, 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded, and the UNWTO predicted a 4% increase in arrivals for 2020 this January. Even if that most likely won’t be the case now, Tourism is proven to be resilient and likely to find new innovative ways, as it has done so over and over again in turbulent times. An optimistic outlook on the situation would be that numbers will bounce back – but what’s best for the whole world in these times? Many countries faced significant problems due to over-tourism and natural resources that have been damaged by a kind of tourism that might no longer be sustainable. If the service quality world-over would improve and travel would become more expensive, would we as travelers then stop damaging natural and cultural resources? Especially in these times, many people became aware of what problems tourism has caused in the past, and now is the time to make up our minds about solutions fitting this issue. Anyway, the focus should not be on chasing the numbers of international tourism arrivals again. It should be on making tourism more sustainable and beneficial for every country.

But to be fair, this outlook might not be what concerns tourism businesses around the globe now. The whole transportation segment will face significant changes as we already see airlines closing down and bus companies striving to sell vouchers to get back in the game as soon as possible. Especially air travel was confronted with massive competition due to low-cost carriers that entered the market and several new players. The question that arises here is the question about current pricing. Is it sustainable to promote the cheapest airfares and make travel possible for literally everyone? Certainly, we can see all the positive aspects that come with low airfares: most obvious, cultural exchange and the possibility to travel for all. However, if we continue doing this, what does it mean for the environment? Shouldn’t an airfare be more expensive than a train or bus ride to the same destination? If prices rise, what does that mean in general, who will be the new travelers? And what does that mean for accommodation and experience providers in destinations?

Indeed, this year will not be the most profitable one for accommodation and gastronomy providers, event organizers, or theme parks. And that goes hand in hand with bringing profit to employees and through them having an impact on a whole countries economy somehow. Statistics indicate that the Asia and Pacific region needs to cope with the highest loss in employment worldwide – in total numbers. Maybe this will also be the region that will be most affected by the pandemic seen in the longer-term, as employment is necessary to maintain a country’s welfare. And that’s another perspective on sustainability here as well: it is vital that tourism benefits the residents, the locals, the people of a country. Only if those people see the benefits travel brings and believe that this kind of tourism is good for the country, it is sustainable on a longer-term perspective. 

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