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Towards the “new normal” – Viewpoints on post-pandemic destination management

As countries are taking steps to ease the corona restrictions, tourism destinations are looking for ways to open up for travel again.


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 25.05.2020

Travel bans, closed borders and grounded planes have dealt a heavy blow to the tourism industry. This blog presents some of the ways destinations around the world are trying to manage post-pandemic tourism, a topic very central to our TOURIST* project.

International tourism: bubbles and borders

Greece and Italy, with economies heavily relying on tourism, are eager to open for international tourism already during the summer. Creating tourism bubbles may be a short-term alternative. It has been done already with the Baltic states and will be the scenario for Australia and New Zealand with their trans-Tasman travel bubble and also Vietnam, China and South Korea are discussing travel bubbles as well.

Travel without coronavirus quarantine can take place within a bubble. Countries seek corona-free allies with states that are in the same epidemiological phase, with states that they can trust to take care of flattening the curve. The EU is suggesting that states with the same virus risk levels open their borders to each other’s tourists. Some countries have already talked about opening tourism corridors between two countries, for instance between France and the UK, which have similar levels of contagion.

Domestic tourism: restarting the engine  

While international visitor flows are economically very significant for many countries, domestic tourism has always formed the biggest share of tourism income for many of them. For countries with strong domestic demand, staycation looks like the most obvious way for tourism to restart in the summer season of 2020.

In Finland, domestic tourism has accounted for around 70% of the total demand, which raises high expectations towards domestic tourism also in the near future. The economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and many people have been furloughed or lost their jobs. However, there are already clear signs that Finns have started to plan their summer holidays. Online bookings for summer cottages and sales statistics for caravans are on the rise.    

Cities: Redefining the visitor experience

As tourism is about to restart its engines, it is also a perfect time for destinations to rethink their image and brand as well as the visitor experience. Destinations such as Venice and Barcelona have turned from overtourism to undertourism. They have become places for the locals again. People around the world have been amazed at how the nature in empty cities has recovered. It is a development that cities would like to see more of. City representatives have already issued statements of how the tourism business needs to be rebuilt to avoid previous overcrowding. Now there is a chance to make tourism more responsible.

Post-pandemic restrictions on capacity and limitations on visitor numbers support the carrying capacity management in destinations around the world. Due to physical distancing needs, pedestrians need more space to avoid crowding. Several city governments are already redesigning the city space for bicycling and walking. Milan was among the first ones to reveal plans to offer wider pavements and cycling lanes, and soon Paris, Venice and Helsinki followed suit. Even New York has opened up streets for pedestrians. In the new plans, there is not as much room for cars and tourist buses as before. Another concern altogether is that people fear density, and many may prefer their own cars to avoid crowded public transport. Many issues are at play in destination management in cities.

Having more space and privacy during a city tour would be more enjoyable for visitors, too. However, it is questionable whether they would be willing to pay more for the new normal experience. Higher prices would be needed to generate the same income from smaller visitor numbers for the city and its residents. On the other hand, in a sustainable destination, income would not leak that easily from the local economy as services would be produced by residents instead of outsiders. Lower visitor numbers and the same prices might be enough. Visitors would be satisfied, the natural environment protected and locals would not be disturbed by large visitor flows. Instead, they could make a sustainable living from the ‘new normal’ tourism.

Towards the new normal standards

In the past few weeks, tourism stakeholders have loudly called for destination management instead of destination marketing. There is a need for a public sector driven dialogue to co-design a new and sustainable visitor economy. The needs of local residents and entrepreneurs must be addressed. Furthermore, incoming tour operators need to be active participants in the sustainable destination replanning and development.

The pandemic has drawn our attention to the things that really matter, social interaction and the natural environment. It gives us a unique opportunity to redesign destinations to meet the new normal standards, to build sustainable destinations with responsible businesses, where also nature can thrive.

In Finland, the Sustainable Travel Finland programme* provides a toolkit to rebuild destinations. When the government and local authorities base their incentives on the requirements of the programme, we are on the right track to meet the post-corona new normal standards!

In our next blog posts we will address the corona-influenced business models and the interesting changes in visitor behaviour caused by the pandemic. Stay tuned!

TOURIST project: The aim of the project is to create competence centres for the development of sustainable tourism and innovative financial management strategies to increase the positive impact of local tourism in Thailand and Vietnam. Read more about the project here.

Sustainable Travel Finland programme: The aim of the programme is to provide companies and destinations with a sustainable development path. The label is only awarded for those companies and destinations that have undergone the entire Sustainable Travel Finland programme and fulfilled the criteria. The programme includes regular auditing and renewal of the label. Read more about the programme here.