What can the tourism sector learn from COVID 19?

I doubted a lot whether to share this, my opinions related not to COVID 19 but to the insights that COVID has brought us. I finally think it is time.  

PS. I am adding at the end of the article thoughts from the sustainable tourism community as soon as I receive and value them.

I want to start with an intro about where I live, just to give you a context. 

I live in Como, Lombardia (Italy) 1-hour drive distance from my family, in the region that in Italy was mostly hit by the spread of the virus. If you want to know more about it, I am happy to share it. Please let me know. I will skip more details for now.

Related to business, as soon as I understood this situation wasn’t going to solve quickly, as demonstrated by the lockdown, two main ideas came to my mind. 

  • We need to differentiate our businesses as a family at least and as a person, if possible; 
  • Having a sustainable approach to business would have helped to be more resilient in a situation like this;
  • I want to look for more resources and information about how sustainable tourism businesses are reacting (I will share them with you later). 

My three businesses are: 

As most of my income is directly or indirectly depending on the tourism sector, the first consideration, of course, is to differentiate from it. I am lucky because my family is not entirely into the tourism sector, even if right now we are almost all in the same boat is a good mix. 

My second consideration refers to the tourism situation in particular: having a sustainable approach to business would have helped to be more resilient in a condition like this. 

Funny is, I finished the GSTC online course just a few weeks before the COVID hit Italy (it is so new that is not reported on my Linkedin account yet). I am glad I had taken this opportunity to refresh and to understand how to apply sustainability to the hotel. 

I need to clarify here the meaning of a sustainable approach to tourism.

I consider sustainable a tourism that is collaborative with the local community, environmentally friendly, and tourism that is inclusive and accessible. 

Those principles can apply to Tour Operator or accommodation and other businesses with just a few differences. 

 A more collaborative approach to with the local community, for example, make it easier to develop a strategy that helps you in normal circumstances:  

  • hosting events ( I think about the no profit or the culture sector), 
  • promoting local food (local producers can benefit from this type of collaboration),
  • training or involving in a specific project local high school students
  • Sharing experiences and problems with colleagues, such as hospitality operator or tourism operator in general, depending on the destination where you are and the number of them. 

When extraordinary circumstances, like COVID 19 happen, you have a group of people and businesses that can try to support each other. 

  • Online events, instead of on-site
  • Local food sold through e-commerce/ delivery, instead of on-site or both cases 
  • Local artists and creative people can change their production and work on something useful and not single-use (like the masks that we have to wear if we go outside).  
  • Experienced colleagues that used to share ideas within the group can become more creative during a lockdown period like this.     
Hotel Loveno in Menaggio

A more environmentally friendly approach in the business, first of all, is better because it is good with the environment where we live, healthier, safer, even more beautiful. Also, in the medium and long term is helping the business with a lower fix cost. Take my situation as an example.  

Hotel Loveno is a seasonal hotel, two stars. We should have opened on the 20th of March. We already planned our improvements: starting with a more efficient heat system. Last year was our first season, and we worked a lot to improve all the rooms and common area from the furniture, we didn’t implement all the improvements yet, but we upgraded all the bathrooms this year. 

Meaning, now our monthly costs are the same that always were during closing times. It is at least 20 years that property was not updated, improved, maintained. 

Generally speaking, We are considering a more efficient heat system (also to be able to expand the season), solar panels, more efficient water heater to help with the reduction of fix costs. 

To reduce the variable costs 

we planned to reduce the waste of soap installing soap diffuser;  

to reduce food waste (and improving the collaboration with the local community) through agreements with people from charities helping homeless and people in need; 

a couple of charming ways to avoid the cleaning of the room gifting the guests that accept it with a tree planted on their name (I am very proud of this Italian service I found!) to reduce the variable costs. 

We were ready to start implementing the hit system when COVID 19 spread in Italy. 

Slow Lake Como

Another way the sustainable approach to tourism would have helped is through more inclusive tourism. Here let me clarify what a mean with the word inclusive. I refer not only to people with some kind of disabilities (physical or mental) that for many reasons can find it challenging to have a proper experience, but also not to target just who is already our type of guests. 

Take my incoming tour company Slow Lake Como, the brand of the agency Slow Travel and Tourism. Slow Lake Como has a very restrict target, English Speaking, willing to spend for a fantastic experience with local people, mainly from the US/ Australia, usually staying in 4 – 5 stars hotel. In the beginning, we tried to work with local people and Italians, unfortunately, because of some, not profit working as tour operator (illegally), local people are not used to valuing the work behind a guide, so we decide to focus more on the international market. In the last three months, my colleagues and I had to work hard to go back on track with new activities focusing on Italians features, needs and desires. We are soon launching specific campaigns to attract them. If we would have been able to work on both markets, probably we would not need to do sponsored campaigns. 

My recommendation is, take this time to plan the future of your business and your destination. There will be no better time than this, and remember this period in the future to motivate yourself. Take into consideration a sustainable approach to tourism if you want to be more resilient and don’t just wait for the government to do its job, but speak with the public sector and involve it on this approach. 

Now it is your time, what is your opinion? What COVID 19 brought to your mind? I’d love to know more experiences and points of view! 

Please let me know! I’m looking forward to reading from you! 

Sara

PS. here is, in my opinion, the most interesting database about tourism and COVID 19 by Anna Spencely

What Covid-19 brought to my mind?”  (This is the reply from Kuldip Gadhvi)
So many things. First of all, it made me realize even more that Life is Fragile and People have forgotten this very basic fact. 
The second thing I realized that when the entire world is under the fear, dealing with this tiny enemy, they are talking about “Solidarity” otherwise many of mankind issues very continental or limited to those unfortunate communities, regions or countries. 
The third thing I realized that everyone is talking mostly about Virus only and trying to deal with them but no one is talking about those remaining Natural resources (i.e. Water) which have been exploited by Capitalist World until now and directly resulting in the demolition of poor people and many other living beings.
Forth thing I realized that after all we are fearful of dying and it wakes us up to do everything needed so that’s good to know that at least this crises made people more generous, kind and humane. Let’s hope it stays like this post-pandemic. 
As far as Sustainable Tourism is a concern, it’s a great opportunity for many people to learn more about our beautiful planet, its diversity, various arts, crafts, cultural treasures and educate themselves more about Sustainable Tourism and in future if they want to support the cause, they have enough choices, awareness, options… 
Anyway, I could go on and on.. but let’s keep it simple that if anyone who genuinely wants to support Sustainable Tourism businesses worldwide, there are enough options to choose from. T&C. If they truly CARE. Namaste! 
Many Thanks!

Kuldip Gadhvi“Kutch Adventures” India a.k.a. “Desert Adventures” Kutch

Website: www.kutchadventuresindia.com

*Responsible Tourism Award for Best in Engaging with People and Culture 2014, WTM, London
*Winner-Inspiring stories from the destination 2014, Wild Asia, Singapore

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