It’s time to take a fresh look at tourism resilience

Tourism is often referred to as ‘resilient’ but that’s mainly thanks to historic patterns of demand. Covid-19 has disrupted those patterns and forced us to think again about how to ensure that places and people who rely on its success are properly prepared for the future.

We’re used to hearing tourism talked about as a ‘resilient’ industry. More often than not, it’s been used by political leaders the world over, when showing their appreciation for a sector which has, for the past six decades grown, seemingly with little to block its path. You may be familiar with the periodic growth forecasts issued by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) since 2011. In January this year before Covid-19 came fully onto the radar, a healthy growth of 3% to 4% was predicted for 2020.

In those opening weeks of 2020, few expected that even a far off disease (labelled as Covid-19 on 11 February) would change this trajectory much. Such optimism stemmed from empirical evidence from prior shocks. As the graphs below show, the economic recovery following previous epidemics such as  1958 H2N2 (“Asian”) flu, and the 2002 SARS epidemic was V-shaped, with the economy quickly and strongly recovering after a sudden and sharp decline. Look back over the past 20 years and we see that in spite of the dips caused by 9/11, the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2009 global economic crisis, international arrivals still continued to grow at a strong pace.

However once lockdowns started to be imposed much closer to home (starting in Northern Italy in mid March), it was clear that Covid-19 was going to be a different case. By May, a month when international tourism arrivals dropped by a stunning 98% compared to the previous year, UNWTO outlined three possible scenarios, pointing to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals in 2020. Since those dramatic declines in the second quarter of 2020, there has been much talk about the shape of the recovery. Will it be a V, U or even an L?

All the evidence of ongoing restrictions and protection measures to date suggests that the recovery will have a ‘U’ shape, since expectations of a longer period of recession have increased. However, other factors such as the number of consecutive Covid-19 waves to come before/after the vaccine, the emergence and evolution of new pandemics and the possibility of governments not being able to provide efficient relief & stimulus packages could even make a - rather unlikely at this stage - L-shaped scenario seem plausible.

Source: Harvard Business Review, March 2020

Exposing the true dynamics of ‘tourism resilience’

Given these staggering falls in demand, the impact of Covid-19 has exposed the fact that tourism resilience depends not only on healthy demand as it once did. Instead, the resilience of tourism supply-side variables matters too. In July this year the World Bank summarised these variables into seven pillars:

  1. The policy environment for business 
  2. Health and hygiene preparedness
  3. ICT readiness (i.e. digital skills and internet use)
  4. Prioritization of travel and tourism by government
  5. International openness (e.g. flexibility of visa policies)
  6. Diversity of air connections and finally;
  7. The quality of tourism services and facilities

Resilient places and communities make for a resilient tourism sector

We take a holistic view of tourism resilience to mean the places where tourism is hosted, rather than a narrow view of the sector itself. Over the past few months as tourism’s restart has been hampered by shifting quarantine regulations, local lockdowns and weak demand, we’ve been working hard with our clients and partners to help them build resilience. For example, we’ve invited them to think about Gen Z, the travellers of the future, we guided Coca-Cola CEE on how best to support their tourism sector partners and advised destinations from Scotland to Seville on how to ‘reset and recover’.

In the coming months, we’ll be reshaping our products and services to help places and their citizens become more resilient. So what will that mean in practice?
  • Focussing on ways to restore and nurture community wellbeing through innovative placemaking and marketing initiatives
  • Ensuring, through integrated strategies that tourism spending delivers more value to local communities
  • Developing stronger networks of business communities, and stimulating demand in local and neighbouring markets wherever possible
  • Guiding public bodies in delivering the right stimulus packages in a way that puts places on the path to a more sustainable model of development
  • Developing tailor-made events that maximise benefits for small and medium sized businesses
If you're thinking along similar lines, we'd love to speak with you. Feel free to drop us a line using the contact details below.

What TOPOSOPHY can do for you 

We have been global thought leaders in destination development, management and marketing for the last 10 years. We transform places and destinations through the skills and international experience of 12 members of staff and a global network of 20+ experts. In total, we have undertaken projects and offered integrated solutions to trusted clients in 20+ countries across 4 continents. We’re ready to support you too.

Some of our services include:

  • Detination performance assessments
  • Destination management strategies & action plans
  • Destination partnership program development
  • DMO assessments and organisational change 
  • Place audits and experience design
  • Place making & branding strategies
  • Resident & consumer sentiment research
  • Research on key geo-demographic markets
  • Stakeholder mapping & community consultation
  • COVID-19 response strategies 
  • Advocacy planning and communications
  • Trendwatching, scenario planning, C-Suite briefing
  •  Recovery Marketing 
  •  Insights presentations, strategy sprints & innovation workshops
Contact us

If you’d like to know more about what we’ve presented here, you’re always welcome to get in contact with us. Just drop us a line at or send us a note through our contact page.





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