The global travel industry and the economies that depend on it have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. However, not all tourism authorities are in a hurry to return to the current situation.
New Zealand, in particular, sees the pandemic shutdown as an opportunity to appeal to a âbetter classâ of visitors, and has created the Premium Partner Program to sponsor tour operators who target people of value. over US $ 1 million (S $ 1.3 million).
Spain’s Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto echoed the ambitions of other destinations when he told the Financial Time newspaper in May: âWe are moving from a model of ‘the more tourists the better’ to a model of higher spending, more overnight stays and high-end tourists.
In Asia, Thailand and Sri Lanka have indicated that they will try to attract the highest-paid visitors, and Viktor Laiskodat, governor of Indonesia’s eastern province of Nusa Tenggara (which includes Flores and Komodo), has been reported on the Tempo news site in November 2020 as saying, âThose who visit this place must be wealthy. If you are not classified as such and still negotiate deals, you better go somewhere else, like Jakarta, Bali or Lombok.
However, not all destinations can afford to be this demanding. And neither can they wish to be.
“Some will still want to target low-budget markets because there will certainly be a demand for it,” explains Denis Tolkach, senior lecturer in tourism at James Cook University in Australia who was, until last January, assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
âIt is unlikely that all countries will succeed in developing enough luxury goods to focus their national tourism agenda on this market. Some lack financial and human resources as well as political frameworks, making it difficult to meet international quality standards.
In an interview with Radio NZ, New Zealand Tourism Minister Stuart Nash defined his ideal traveler as one who “flies business class or premium economy, hires a helicopter around Franz Josef [glacier] and eat at an upscale restaurant.
The attraction of these tourists is obvious. âIt certainly makes sense to target high-spending tourists,â Tolkach says. âThis helps maintain a good level of tourist income while reducing social and environmental pressures on a destination. “
These pressures come in many forms, from the overcrowding that cities like Venice and Amsterdam were trying to control before the pandemic hit, to the litter found on many Asian beaches, and the open defecation that Nash blames on ” freedom campers’ – mainly young work visa holders who roam New Zealand.
“If you’re willing to pay for a motorhome at least … dispose of your droppings in a way that meets our sustainability goals and, quite frankly, our brand,” he said. declared.
It seems fair enough. But the choice is seldom as simple as wealthy visitors, good; low budget visitors, bad. For starters, not all of these are cut from the same fabric. The behavior of visitors in package tour groups is very different from that of backpackers, for example.
âBackpackers get bad press because of the idea that they are limited on their money and spend as little as possible when traveling,â says Nikki Scott, founder of Backpackers International.
âIt’s just not true. Although they are traveling on a budget, it just means that they choose carefully where to spend their money. Although they avoid five star hotels and fancy restaurants, they are quite willing to spend a few hundred dollars on adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, hiking, boat trips and Mountain biking.[[nid:483970]]
As a result, this investment is less likely to be repatriated abroad, to the headquarters of a multinational company.
âThis money, when channeled directly to a small community, is everything for those families and communities, helping in the distribution of wealth,â says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures, which designs tours for young people. travelers. âI think it’s difficult for tourism organizations to fully understand this.
Tolkach says his research in Hong Kong suggests backpackers are more sustainable than mass tourists. Backpackers are likely to stay in a country much longer, so their total expenses may well exceed that of a well-paid brief visitor, and they “usually venture beyond the most common tourist spots and make their mark. purchases locally “.
Backpackers, Scott says, are also considered “dirty, smelly, drug addicts, alcoholics who just want to party.” None of this is true.
Poon Tip concedes, however, that some travelers go to a destination just to party, and tourism organizations cannot control where or how they do it. However, the terms “backpacker” and “budget traveler” encompass a variety of people, most of whom are not concerned about building up a drug stash before the next full moon party.
âThey can be nomadic families, backpack grannies, career breakers, empty nests and digital nomads,â says Scott. âSmall businesses have always realized the value of backpacker tourism and understood that the stereotype of the backpacker as a long haired hippie with no money is far from the truth. “[[nid:451447]]
Environmental concerns are also growing, and budget travelers are unlikely to be the ones taking Nash’s helicopter around the Franz Josef Glacier.
“It’s never without impact [with budget travellers], but it’s a much lower impact, that’s for sure, âPoon Tip says. âSome of our land trips use local transportation to get around, so we don’t hire private transportation. We stay in very small housing, have very small groups, and the impact is much less.
Scott also notes that high-end tourists are less likely to get a true impression of the country they are visiting. “Many (…) will be safe from the worst environmental problems, like plastic pollution and poverty. Many are given a sugar-coated image of a country. The beaches near their five-star hotels will be cleaned and disinfected and many of them will not venture into places where backpackers go.
âBackpackers, on the other hand, often return from trips with their eyes open to other issues in the world. Some of them spend weeks or months volunteering in a country, or start their own social and environmental projects.
âOnce you’ve backpacked with all of your material possessions on their backs and met people who have nothing but the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, you tend to realize that wealth material is not as important as the Western world claims. to be.”
Tolkach points out that “cross-cultural interaction can help alleviate xenophobic sentiments which seem to be on the rise in some countries” and that backpackers can help labor markets stay flexible. “In countries like Australia and New Zealand, they stay on working holiday visas and can work, usually in agriculture or hospitality.”
Plus, young budget travelers who have made a positive connection to a destination may well come back later, when they’re the ones with high net worth.
Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler considers himself a longtime backpacker and budget traveler. âThere are many places where [my kind] are the biggest part of the travel spectrum, and they are often the trailblazers, the people who open places in the first place, âhe says.
He hopes independent and spirited travelers will help restart tourism after the Covid-19 lockdowns. “Maybe they’ll be the first to come back on the scene when it comes to reopening places.”
And now what?
âThere are a lot of pent up travel requests,â Tolkach says. “So yes, there are fears that after Covid the status quo will return and the masses of tourists will take the same routes, visiting the same cities and the same attractions that they visited before Covid.”
Bali can be an interesting indicator, he says. âThe growth of tourism has greatly contributed to the island’s waste management problems, to the detriment of the natural environment and socio-cultural issues linked to tourist behavior.[[nid:463809]]
On the one hand, Bali wants to change the way it develops tourism after the pandemic to focus more on sustainability and return per tourist. On the other hand, there is a lack of economic opportunities on the island, and many people desperately want tourists to come back so that they can once again have a stable income.
“This sense of desperation and urgency can also push other destinations to adopt policies that will stimulate the return of visitors. [on any kind of budget]. “
Ultimately, however, it’s important for a destination to have the right mix of products and markets, Tolkach says. “As they say:
âDon’t put all the eggs in one basket. Luxury travel is great from an income generation perspective. But budget travel also offers jobs and small business opportunities for many people – especially in Southeast Asia – who cannot afford a formal education or the large investments needed for a top tourism business. range.
Wheeler says that for destinations that are in a position to choose, the question they will need to ask themselves is whether they want tourism to be “restricted to people who have just taken the plane, hanging out for a few days in the cities. international stations, then set off again â.
“Isn’t there a lot to say about visitors who stay longer, potentially spend more in that longer period, and spend their money closer to ground level, where it’s more likely to benefit the everyday population, not just to large operators? “
This article first appeared in South China Morning Post.