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Tourism: reinventing itself to be reborn

The announcement has symbolic value. On March 25, in a joint statement, the Italian Ministers of Culture, Tourism, Environment and Infrastructure declared that the liners could no longer approach the historic center of Venice and should, as a first step , drop anchor at the industrial port. The decision, made “in order to protect a cultural and historical heritage that belongs not only to Italy, but to the whole world”, they pointed out, was greeted by the 260,000 Venetians, who had been showing their dissatisfaction and concern for several years, in the face of these floating buildings which suddenly dumped thousands of boaters in Saint Mark’s Square. If some – cafe owners and restaurateurs, shopkeepers and souvenir sellers, gondoliers and guides – made a living from tourism, others saw only a cumbersome crowd, a harvest of greasy paper and damage to the fragile ecosystem of the lagoon. . Venice, which earned 3 billion euros a year from tourism, saw this windfall dry up last year. But this void left by the hordes of visitors was an opportunity to think about a new way of welcoming them and a more sustainable activity.

Just as it was not the only one to suffer from mass tourism, Venice is not the only city to want to start anew. This is also the case for Barcelona, ​​Berlin, Bali, Bangkok, London or Paris, as well as medium-sized cities, from Dax to Dubrovnik via Marrakech, Taormina or Agra and its Taj Mahal.

From travel for all to “overtourism”

In recent decades, the emergence of a global middle class and the democratization of travel have in fact given wings to tourism, even creating what specialists call “overtourism”. From 278 million in 1980, the number of people crossing a border to discover elsewhere reached 674 million in 2000, then 1.5 billion in 2019. Without the pandemic, this figure would have been close to 2 billion last year! According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the international organization that federates the profession, the tourism industry contributed, with an amount of 9,200 billion dollars, to 10.4% of the world’s wealth and represented 10, 6% of total employment, making this sector one of the ten largest. France, the world’s leading tourist country, which received more than 89 million visitors two years ago (and hoped for 100 million last year…) has thus garnered 150 billion euros in total revenue, according to Atout France, the tourism development agency. According to the WTTC, tourism as a whole contributed, in 2019, to 8.5% of our national wealth. It directly or indirectly employed 2.7 million people (or 9.5% of total employment). Tourism is also a major activity in Italy: it accounted for 13.1% of GDP in 2019 and employed 3.4 million people (15% of the total). In Spain, it represented 14.1% of GDP and 2.8 million jobs (14.4% of the total). Finally, some countries are almost dependent on tourism. Thus, in Thailand, it weighed almost 20% of the economy and 40% in the Seychelles…

1,000 billion euros in losses

But that was before the pandemic. Confinements, closed borders, fears for health: the crisis, by stopping travel, cost this industry 1,300 billion dollars (1,000 billion euros) in 2020. The loss of income amounts to eleven times that recorded in 2009, in the wake of the financial and economic crisis, specifies the World Tourism Organization of the UN. Between 100 and 120 million direct jobs have so far disappeared. In France, 61 billion euros vanished last year, according to Atout France.

No question, given the economic weight of the sector, to leave it abandoned. In addition to the aid that some governments have offered to tourism professionals, to regain success, we must act. But with the objective of bringing about a different type of tourism… Because if it is good for the economy and employment, without forgetting the individual wealth it brings in terms of discovery and contact with other humans , it nevertheless has perverse effects: concreting of the coasts to build hotels there, rubbish piling up on the beaches and in the mountains, diversion of water resources for hotels and their swimming pools to the detriment of agricultural production, loss of soul of entire neighborhoods transformed into Disney parks… And of course, tourism contributes to global warming. According to the report by the World Tourism Organization, associated with the International Transport Forum, submitted at COP25 in Madrid in December 2019, emissions related to tourist transport alone should represent 5.3% of total human CO2 emissions in 2030, compared to 5% in 2016. At the heart of the sector, the airlines were quick to react, by working on less greedy reactors in kerosene, or operating with a less polluting mixture. They rely on technology to fine-tune their flight plans, so that, again, they use less fossil fuels. Some are trying, as are tour operators, to offset their emissions by planting trees. And in February 2021, the European airline industry published its roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Other airlines, including several American ones, followed suit.

In reality, by contributing to global warming, tourism is also a victim. According to the World Tourism Organization report, he even lives at the foot of the volcano. Extreme climatic events, hurricanes or storms, “can lead to increased fears for security and the cost of insurance”. Similarly, this industry could face in the near future “a shortage of water, the loss of biodiversity and damage to the assets and attractiveness of certain destinations, implying moreover a lack of economic opportunities for local communities”. Moreover, nature was better off last year due to the almost total cessation of tourism. In the absence of the three million visitors who swarm the beaches of Phuket and Ko Samui, Thailand each year, leatherback turtles, threatened with extinction, have once again laid their eggs there. And freed from the noise of cruise ships, humpback whales in Alaska were finally able to hear the call of their congeners! Images of the revival of nature and the presence, near places of residence, of animals exiled far from human activity, have made the rounds on social networks. However, experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society, interviewed by the New York Timesnote an increase in poaching, in certain parks, notably in Botswana, as well as illegal logging, partly due to the lack of income linked to tourism in these regions.

Beyond global warming, awareness of the footprint of tourism on the planet and its inhabitants had already taken shape, at least among some, tour operators and consumers alike. The crisis has only reinforced it. “We see more and more a moral judgment being established”says Emmanuelle Lallement, anthropologist and university professor at the University of Paris 8, “and tourists are ordered to position themselves”since from the use of the world, dear to Nicolas Bouvier (according to the title of his book, published in 1963), we have moved on to the wear of the world…

Manage feeds

But how to break the neck of mass tourism? After all, everyone should, in an ideal world, have the right to look elsewhere! In fact, as mountain specialist Armelle Solelhac, founder of the communication agency SWiTCH and author of a report, published in April 2020, on post-pandemic crisis tourism, the expression “mass tourism” “was created by an elite”, as opposed to very well-preserved places. And the question is above all that of managing flows, which are too high in certain seasons or almost year-round in cities like Venice or Barcelona. In addition, “if there are too many tourists and they have to queue to enter the museum or visit a monument, during this time, they don’t consume”, she argues. Some professionals have already understood this – hence their counter-intuitive idea of ​​reducing the number of visitors, in order to make hosting more profitable… Similarly, if the latter benefit from a better experience, new key to tourism, they will no doubt be tempted to return. An additional benefit for destinations. “In the form of weak signals, the evolution had already begun in recent years”continues Armelle Solelhac, who has traveled around the world several times in search of these trends, “but it is clear that the pandemic, in the same way that it has changed different forms of consumption, to which is now added a quest for meaning, in work but also in leisure, is a game-changer for tourism”.

It remains to be seen whether the good resolutions taken during the pandemic will be followed by good practices, both on the part of tour operators and the tourists themselves. Some fear that the wanderlustthe spirit of adventure, fueled by the confinements, does not, on the contrary, give rise to a frenzy of travel… At least for a while.

“I am not necessarily optimistic about the advent of alternative tourism, the socio-cultural profiles of tourists being very heterogeneous”, acknowledges Emmanuelle Lallement. Armelle Solelhac points out, however, that according to surveys, 64% of them say they now want to leave in accordance with their values ​​and limit their impact on the environment…

The strategy to be put in place will in any case have to be based on several pillars: evolution of tourism times, so that they are no longer confined, as is moreover particularly the case in France, over the period July- August, to avoid the crowds; common state vision with other countries in terms of infrastructure, giving pride of place to softer modes of transport, such as the train, including at night, for journeys over medium distances, and, on the part of cities reception, initiatives aimed at regulating flows, as with the cruise ships in Venice, and limitations concerning Airbnb rentals, for example, like San Francisco. And finally, hotels will have to offer more, some disconnected stays, with the obligation to put their laptop in the safe of the establishment, others activities such as cleaning beaches or development actions – helping with construction a school, for example – while tour operators will have to emphasize, as some are already doing, more responsible and homestay stays. Not to mention the “sustainable” labels, which are beginning to flourish. In short, if it is not yet totally in the facts, the time, in the hearts and in the minds, is today for a different experience, sometimes aided by digital technology, far from the traditional course, neck and neck with other tourists to try to appreciate the same decor or the same picture. This is called responsible, sustainable, alternative tourism or slow tourism. Some go even further, and speak today of “regenerative tourism”, in order to improve the destination rather than disfigure it and exploit it and its inhabitants. Tourism is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, experts say, so industry players have some time to fine-tune their strategy. But to ensure its renaissance, it is clear that tourism will have to reinvent itself. For the good of everyone and the planet.


This article is an excerpt from “T” La Revue de La Tribune n°5 – TRAVEL, elsewhere is not so far – June 2021 – Discover the paper version