Tourism has a future, but it urgently needs to be reconverted
Tourism has been the sector hardest hit by the pandemic because its raison d'être is mobility and social interaction, the two things that contribute most to the spread of the virus and, therefore, those that have had the most restrictions. This has led to a sharp fall in Catalan and Spanish GDP, above the European average, because we are very dependent on it, too much so. In Catalonia, tourism accounts for approximately 17% of GDP, and other sectors indirectly depend on it, such as logistics, food and even construction, which are also diminished without tourist demand. The covid crisis has shown the fragility of the sector and the excessive dependence we have of it. And also that we need it, because at the moment there are not many alternatives to create jobs and grow the economy.
The pandemic crisis has served to put everyone in their place. The anti-tourism people, who were very active before the crisis, have seen to what extent this is a core sector for many people, both the often low-skilled workers who find it difficult to find work in other sectors and also the skilled ones, because the chain of services is extensive and has affected many people. But it has also served to show pro-tourists the danger of putting all their eggs in one basket, and they have seen how the tourist monoculture in many areas is a time bomb when some external element - now a pandemic, but it could also be terrorism or social unrest - leaves a destination out of the market.
All this takes place in the context of the great debate of the moment, which is the climate crisis and the measures that must be taken now urgently to combat it. Among them is the need to travel less to reduce emissions from planes, ships and all types of vehicles. Public awareness will also eventually lead to higher demands from customers who value factors such as sustainability and ecology when choosing their destination, as well as stricter regulations.
However, let's not fool ourselves: tourism will not disappear. If there is one thing that most people in developed countries have right now, it is the desire to move around and go sightseeing. And the destinations, which is actually the whole world because there are few places where tourism is not an important part of the economy, are looking forward to the return of the flow of travellers and money.
Tourism still has a future, this is very clear, but it is also clear that the model has to be changed and sooner or later the world will have to assume that it is impossible to continue with the frenetic and low cost rhythm we had until 2019. Trying to fight the crisis, as has been the trend in many sun and beach areas, by lowering prices is unsustainable. The way forward is the opposite, experts say. Reduce the number of places, diversify the offer, improve the level of service and compete for sustainability. This does not mean looking for the rich tourist, it means adjusting the demand to the supply that can be more balanced at all levels, both ecological and economic, ensuring quality jobs and an attractive holiday experience. It will not be easy, but it should be a clear strategy for the medium and long term.