.
V

isiting cultural landmarks, tasting local cuisine, lounging on a virgin beach, meeting friends in far off destinations, just getting on a plane whether for business travel or to fly to an idyllic destination—things that we took for granted at the beginning of 2020 have turned into dreams and fond memories of the past. But in this global pause, one where borders are closed and restrictions are in place, there is opportunity to emerge in a post-pandemic world more safely, efficiently and with better evidence-based decisions.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in every aspect. While public health measures have triggered an unprecedented use of technology and solutions to connectivity and heightened our global appreciation of the value of interconnectivity, the pandemic has also had an unprecedented impact on travel and tourism. Restrictions on a global, national, and local level in April and May brought travel to a screeching halt.

This goes beyond the occasional vacation or business trip; the entire industry is crippled. Airlines are filing for bankruptcy, countries are seeing significant job loss and economic setbacks, and cruise lines are rendered optionless. In a time where there is unprecedented use of technology on a global scale and the industries thriving are ones that adapted to the digital revolution long ago, the opportunity to change the way the travel industry is there and it’s been accelerated by the pandemic. 

Public health measures and lockdown restrictions on a global, national, and local level brought the travel and tourism industries to a screeching halt. They also spurred a revolution in how we use technology to meet connectivity challenges which led to a heightened global appreciation the value of interconnectivity and what it means for the way we interact with one another. The travel and tourism industry have an opportunity to seize this moment and meet the rallying cry heard around the world, for better technology solutions to create a more equal, efficient and safer travel experience for all. 

Failure to seize this revolution would only create further disparity at the global, national and local levels in terms of access and safety that would continue to create divide. This would devastate the industry that is reliant on a complete ecosystem to create experiences that keep travelers moving and ultimately infusing the economy. 

The situation is dire. According to UN World Tourism Organization, between 100 and 120 million tourism jobs are at risk, with the economic damage likely to exceed $1 trillion in 2020 alone. The significant drop in international travel demand from January-June of 2020 translates into a $460 billion revenue loss for international tourism. This is roughly five times the record losses suffered by the industry in 2009 during the global financial crisis. 

The pandemic has also been a great equalizer, with everyone being forced into isolation alone or with their families and severe restrictions on international travel.  With travel largely grounded, travel and tourism industry professionals have been forced to assess where, how, and why they are going to invest as they look toward a “new normal.” 

Some things aren’t changing that much. According to a Skift survey close to 80% of travel and hospitality leader respondents said that, even in light of COVID-19, it was much more important or somewhat more important that they proceed with their digital transformation plans today.

For many, technology is often the first step in their travel experience. Even before booking a ticket, search engines and social media play a key role in determining a destination. And as destinations face tougher competition, innovation, fast implementation and smart use of data will determine the winners. 

With tourism making up between 30% and 80% of exports for some of the poorest countries of the world , digital transformation is an imperative rather than an option, the only question is how quickly it will take place. Destinations and countries that rely on tourism for capital infusion are being forced—at a much faster rate than other destinations—to become what is known as smart destinations. These smart destinations feature strategies for technology, innovation, sustainability, accessibility, and inclusivity for the whole tourism cycle: before, during, and after. The concept of smart destination is also defined as one with residents and tourists interests at its core, considering aspects like multilingualism and seasonality. This allows the economy to flourish, it creates opportunities to better understand what influences a traveler, and it gives local businesses the weight they need to effectively contribute to the countries’ economic development.  

In Mexico, the push for digital transformation has been expedited by the pandemic. Visit Mexico had a pre-COVID-19 vision of making tourism in the country 100% data driven by creating a digital ecosystem where all tourism sector companies big and small could utilize technology to increase their competitiveness, enhance traveler experiences, and leverage data to make informed and more efficient decisions. The new Director General for Visit Mexico charted an ambitious vision for digital transformation in 2019 as a way of keeping the country’s tourism on the cutting edge. A year later, a drive to keep travelers and tourism workers alike safe, precipitated a forced digital transformation.  

The Mexican example gives us an idea of what a holistic digital approach could look like. Reacting to the closure of offices, there is now an active program to support travel agents in their digital transition. A partnership with Google My Business provides even the smallest mom and pop business with an online presence, allowing newly health-conscious tourists to be purposeful in planning their activities and reduce in-person contact. More ambitious is moving beyond using digital tools to understand what tourists feel about Mexico, to how they act, including using advanced technology to gather and use data about what happens when a tourist walks out of the airport and how they spend their money. The virtual travel fair Tianguis Turístico Digital Mexico 2020 is a positive indicator that taking business online is possible with its record of 27,539 business meetings over the space of two days.

Another example of a popular destination with an opportunity to transform itself post pandemic lock-down measures is Hawaii. With over 20% of the state economy reliant on tourism, Hawaii was hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and saw significant increases in unemployment as a result. But concerns around overtourism and visitors overstaying their welcome in the paradisiac islands existed before the pandemic as eco-systems buckled under the volume of visitors which hit a record-breaking 10.4 million in 2019. Smart destination technology would allow Hawaii to account for fluctuating travel seasons, adapt to emerging technologies, and expedite antiquated processes such as manual ticket delivery. This technology adaption will be critical as people travel in new ways people will travel during and after COVID-19 restrictions ease to ensure travelers and residents are as safe and healthy as possible. For Hawaii, that means adopting proper screening technology since most visitors arrive by air. 

If travelers already expected real-time updates with ease and flexibility to make their investment to travel somewhere worthwhile, this has been heightened by the pandemic. Expectations about technology have been heightened as safety measures increase expectations of online presence and information, as well as contactless procedures. Ensuring access to technology—especially for the small and medium business owners that make up the bulk of the travel sector—will be make or break for the future of the tourism and travel sectors.

The use of technology and the consistent infusion of intelligence-based services has the opportunity to create a more inclusive, efficient and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable tourism industry. As millions of families rely on tourism, the destinations and their tourism boards that most effectively infuse digital-readiness into their processes—and do away with old practices that no-longer serve them—will be most poised to thrive. 

But, the question remains, will all destinations be able to infuse the technological updates at the same rate and with the same level of consistency? Or will the mass movement towards data create further economic disparities among countries with less resources to invest?

About
Judit Arenas
:
Judit Arenas is a senior director and senior adviser to the Founder and Chair of APCO Worldwide. An avid traveler with a background, she advises business, non-profit, multilateral and government leaders on strategy, strategic communications and market entry and positioning.
About
Nicole Monge
:
Nicole Monge is a senior associate director in APCO’s Washington office. She has worked with a wide range of clients in the consumer-technology, travel and health care industries, and specializes in a hybrid approach to digital and traditional communications.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

A Revolution Not of Our Choosing: Digitizing Travel and Tourism

November 10, 2020

At a time when global travel and tourism are on an enforced hiatus, there is opportunity to emerge in a post-pandemic world more safely, efficiently and with better evidence-based decisions.

V

isiting cultural landmarks, tasting local cuisine, lounging on a virgin beach, meeting friends in far off destinations, just getting on a plane whether for business travel or to fly to an idyllic destination—things that we took for granted at the beginning of 2020 have turned into dreams and fond memories of the past. But in this global pause, one where borders are closed and restrictions are in place, there is opportunity to emerge in a post-pandemic world more safely, efficiently and with better evidence-based decisions.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in every aspect. While public health measures have triggered an unprecedented use of technology and solutions to connectivity and heightened our global appreciation of the value of interconnectivity, the pandemic has also had an unprecedented impact on travel and tourism. Restrictions on a global, national, and local level in April and May brought travel to a screeching halt.

This goes beyond the occasional vacation or business trip; the entire industry is crippled. Airlines are filing for bankruptcy, countries are seeing significant job loss and economic setbacks, and cruise lines are rendered optionless. In a time where there is unprecedented use of technology on a global scale and the industries thriving are ones that adapted to the digital revolution long ago, the opportunity to change the way the travel industry is there and it’s been accelerated by the pandemic. 

Public health measures and lockdown restrictions on a global, national, and local level brought the travel and tourism industries to a screeching halt. They also spurred a revolution in how we use technology to meet connectivity challenges which led to a heightened global appreciation the value of interconnectivity and what it means for the way we interact with one another. The travel and tourism industry have an opportunity to seize this moment and meet the rallying cry heard around the world, for better technology solutions to create a more equal, efficient and safer travel experience for all. 

Failure to seize this revolution would only create further disparity at the global, national and local levels in terms of access and safety that would continue to create divide. This would devastate the industry that is reliant on a complete ecosystem to create experiences that keep travelers moving and ultimately infusing the economy. 

The situation is dire. According to UN World Tourism Organization, between 100 and 120 million tourism jobs are at risk, with the economic damage likely to exceed $1 trillion in 2020 alone. The significant drop in international travel demand from January-June of 2020 translates into a $460 billion revenue loss for international tourism. This is roughly five times the record losses suffered by the industry in 2009 during the global financial crisis. 

The pandemic has also been a great equalizer, with everyone being forced into isolation alone or with their families and severe restrictions on international travel.  With travel largely grounded, travel and tourism industry professionals have been forced to assess where, how, and why they are going to invest as they look toward a “new normal.” 

Some things aren’t changing that much. According to a Skift survey close to 80% of travel and hospitality leader respondents said that, even in light of COVID-19, it was much more important or somewhat more important that they proceed with their digital transformation plans today.

For many, technology is often the first step in their travel experience. Even before booking a ticket, search engines and social media play a key role in determining a destination. And as destinations face tougher competition, innovation, fast implementation and smart use of data will determine the winners. 

With tourism making up between 30% and 80% of exports for some of the poorest countries of the world , digital transformation is an imperative rather than an option, the only question is how quickly it will take place. Destinations and countries that rely on tourism for capital infusion are being forced—at a much faster rate than other destinations—to become what is known as smart destinations. These smart destinations feature strategies for technology, innovation, sustainability, accessibility, and inclusivity for the whole tourism cycle: before, during, and after. The concept of smart destination is also defined as one with residents and tourists interests at its core, considering aspects like multilingualism and seasonality. This allows the economy to flourish, it creates opportunities to better understand what influences a traveler, and it gives local businesses the weight they need to effectively contribute to the countries’ economic development.  

In Mexico, the push for digital transformation has been expedited by the pandemic. Visit Mexico had a pre-COVID-19 vision of making tourism in the country 100% data driven by creating a digital ecosystem where all tourism sector companies big and small could utilize technology to increase their competitiveness, enhance traveler experiences, and leverage data to make informed and more efficient decisions. The new Director General for Visit Mexico charted an ambitious vision for digital transformation in 2019 as a way of keeping the country’s tourism on the cutting edge. A year later, a drive to keep travelers and tourism workers alike safe, precipitated a forced digital transformation.  

The Mexican example gives us an idea of what a holistic digital approach could look like. Reacting to the closure of offices, there is now an active program to support travel agents in their digital transition. A partnership with Google My Business provides even the smallest mom and pop business with an online presence, allowing newly health-conscious tourists to be purposeful in planning their activities and reduce in-person contact. More ambitious is moving beyond using digital tools to understand what tourists feel about Mexico, to how they act, including using advanced technology to gather and use data about what happens when a tourist walks out of the airport and how they spend their money. The virtual travel fair Tianguis Turístico Digital Mexico 2020 is a positive indicator that taking business online is possible with its record of 27,539 business meetings over the space of two days.

Another example of a popular destination with an opportunity to transform itself post pandemic lock-down measures is Hawaii. With over 20% of the state economy reliant on tourism, Hawaii was hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions and saw significant increases in unemployment as a result. But concerns around overtourism and visitors overstaying their welcome in the paradisiac islands existed before the pandemic as eco-systems buckled under the volume of visitors which hit a record-breaking 10.4 million in 2019. Smart destination technology would allow Hawaii to account for fluctuating travel seasons, adapt to emerging technologies, and expedite antiquated processes such as manual ticket delivery. This technology adaption will be critical as people travel in new ways people will travel during and after COVID-19 restrictions ease to ensure travelers and residents are as safe and healthy as possible. For Hawaii, that means adopting proper screening technology since most visitors arrive by air. 

If travelers already expected real-time updates with ease and flexibility to make their investment to travel somewhere worthwhile, this has been heightened by the pandemic. Expectations about technology have been heightened as safety measures increase expectations of online presence and information, as well as contactless procedures. Ensuring access to technology—especially for the small and medium business owners that make up the bulk of the travel sector—will be make or break for the future of the tourism and travel sectors.

The use of technology and the consistent infusion of intelligence-based services has the opportunity to create a more inclusive, efficient and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable tourism industry. As millions of families rely on tourism, the destinations and their tourism boards that most effectively infuse digital-readiness into their processes—and do away with old practices that no-longer serve them—will be most poised to thrive. 

But, the question remains, will all destinations be able to infuse the technological updates at the same rate and with the same level of consistency? Or will the mass movement towards data create further economic disparities among countries with less resources to invest?

About
Judit Arenas
:
Judit Arenas is a senior director and senior adviser to the Founder and Chair of APCO Worldwide. An avid traveler with a background, she advises business, non-profit, multilateral and government leaders on strategy, strategic communications and market entry and positioning.
About
Nicole Monge
:
Nicole Monge is a senior associate director in APCO’s Washington office. She has worked with a wide range of clients in the consumer-technology, travel and health care industries, and specializes in a hybrid approach to digital and traditional communications.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.