AND WHAT COMES AFTER THE END?
MARCH 24 2020: In Group NAO, we normally pride ourselves with plenty of playful curiosity and deep analytical insights in the travel and tourism industry. Except, in this time of crisis, there is no playfulness. The corona crisis is developing into a horrific disaster – first and foremost because it kills people. From an industry perspective, because it might expel international travel and tourism altogether – and this time for real. Not from overtourism or digital evolution, as pointed out when Wonderful Copenhagen first pronounced “The End of Tourism – as we know it” in its renowned 2017 strategy, but this time from the instant and near total annihilation of international travel and tourism by the corona pandemic.
FROM OVERTOURISM TO NO TOURISM IN A WEEK
What seemed unimaginable and like an unbreakable world order just a few weeks ago, is now plain and cold reality. We have gone from overtourism to absolutely no tourism in a week. Travel bans have cancelled 200.000 transatlantic flights, grounded many airlines and made cruise ships homeless rejects of the sea. Hotels and convention centers show occupancies near zero. Mega events cancelled or postponed. Restaurants, cafés, bars, shops, museums and attractions have closed down. Travelers themselves curfewed or cocooning at home. City life is extinct. Everywhere.
So, left with our curiosity in the isolation of our home offices: Where is this going? When will it end? And what comes after the end? Will the crisis fundamentally change the world of travel and tourism? And how? Of course, we do not have the answers. We can only observe, ask the essential questions and try to make (new) sense of what we see and learn. In these NAO What series, we will do just that. Over the coming weeks and months, we will share our findings and think outloud as our ability to navigate will gradually reinstall itself along with our sensemaking of the new normal in travel and tourism. We are not doing so alone, but together with friends, partners, collaborators and clients within and outside the industry.
NEED FOR LONG THINKING
To start with, we will organize our future thinking along the dual dimensions below – globalism versus localism and unity versus division, respectively. We will explore each of these windows – along with trends, phenomena and inspiring initiatives we find on the way – in order to understand and explain what it means for players of the travel industry, for destinations and for communities.
THE END OF GLOBALIZATION?
The big question on the mind of most long thinkers these days is: Does the Corona crisis mark the end of globalization? And if so, what does it mean for travel and tourism? ForeignPolicy.com asked 12 leading thinkers to weigh in on the long-haul socio-economic impact, and while only one sees the crisis as the straw that breaks the camel’s back of economic globalization, several agree that the crisis will create a world that is less open, less prosperous, and less free.
For decades, globalization has been the meta driver of travel and resulted in a hyperconnected world of more than 1.5bn. international arrivals a year – only to be plunged instantly by global travel bans and a mushrooming of border walls and controls – physical, political and technological. It is only fair to assume, that we need to rethink the entire ecosystem of travel and tourism if globalization is really at its sunset. In fact, we need to rethink the wired economy of the modern knowledge society all together. Rise and shine convention bureaus!
UNITY OR DIVISION?
Then there is the impact on humanity – and on each of us as individuals: According to bestseller writer Yuval Noah Harari´s great read in Financial Times this week, humanity is facing its biggest crisis of modern times. The choices and policies we adopt today will determine our economy, politics and culture for years to come. The coronavirus pandemic is also a major test of citizenship. How will different societies react? Will we trust scientific data and healthcare experts over unfounded conspiracy theories and self-serving politicians? Will we unify in solidarity and reach out to those who need help? Or will we be “me first” and intolerant of anything and anyone exogenic (yes, including tourists)?
As anyone following the work of Group NAO will know, travelers and tourists are all kinds of people. The coronavirus epidemic will set behavioral psychologists and anthropologists on overtime explaining how we can feel safe sitting close to each other on airplanes again. Or how (primarily) elderly people can ever again embark on the all-inclusive bacteria buffet of a cruiseship. Or how kissing that Tinder date is not an alternative game of Russian Roulette. Or simply, whether it should still be European custom to greet each other by cheek kissing and hand shaking in your next conference setting.
RISE TO THE HOUR
In either scenario, emergencies are fast-forward historical processes as pointed out by Harari. Decisions that in normal times could take years of democratic elaboration are passed in a matter of hours. Massive economic stimulus programs are passed in days, immature and potentially dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Popular movements rise to the occasion with rapid and radical crowd sourced innovations, hacks and campaigns. In travel and tourism, some DMO´s like Travelportland and VisitOslo rise to their finest hour in support of their communities. In fact, entire democracies might finally get out of their shells, trust in government be reinstalled, and the spirit of humanity may bloom and boost with creativity, ingenuity, ideas and new purpose.
Thus, it might actually be the new beginning af travel and tourism – not the end – which of course calls for the first and last question: What do we need to do differently when we reimagine and rebuild travel on the other side?
IN SHORT: The world is spinning on warp speed regardless of the scenarios above. Follow us on here or on LinkedIn in the coming weeks as we unfold the NAO What series. It is our modest contribution in these difficult times. Feel free to reach out, and let us share inspiration from the imaginative and fast adapters in global travel and tourism, who are determined to look ahead, reimagine and with hope reshape and rebuild what comes after the end! /P+S