Tourism: The end of a model
Tourism, a must of our consumer societies and has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
The glorious 30
Its turnover could fall by 60-80% this year. This is a real cataclysm, accounting for 10% of the world’s GDP and 12% of its jobs. While world tourists were estimated at around 25 million in 1950, by 2013 they had risen to over 1 billion. Tourism which, in order to make itself accessible to as many people as possible, has polarised its activities and encouraged practices that are not respectful of local ecosystems. In 2018, tourism accounted for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Is tourism becoming an economic luxury?
"Being" on holiday
As anxious as it was, the closure of borders and the restriction of our mobility last spring made many of us both aware of the human scale and the need to feed on what was within reach of the hands or eyes. Daily walks in our villages, walking, cycling; shopping at local merchants; (re)discovery of our local heritage, etc. In this forced immobility, time has regained the power to drip drop by drop and our minds the power to watch it pass in a simple fashion. As a result, when borders have reopened and the sacrosanct offshore exodus has become possible again, many of us have questioned the need to leave and reunite.
Environmental Miracle or Economic Disaster?
We all saw these images of the Venetian lagoon returned to the Venetians and made transparent for the occasion. In addition to a heightened awareness of our local heritage, the coronavirus has undeniably put an abrupt end to mass and polluting tourism, which has provided the sector with uninterrupted growth over the past 25 years. But, in addition to this resilience of ecosystems, the economic consequences of this paralysis remain major, and not all countries are equal in the face of this shock. While tourism accounts for only 7% of French GDP, in less affluent countries such as Spain or Italy, it is close to 12-13%. A fragility that inevitably condemns them to favour the masses. Another major setback is the CO2 imported by this activity. In Maldives or Seychelles, two of the most popular destinations in the world, tourism accounts for between 30 and 80% of national CO2 emissions.
The end of a model
In November 2019, the world’s oldest travel agency, Thomas Cook, filed for bankruptcy after almost 200 years. The company has not withstood the competition from online sites and the increasing autonomy of consumers in planning their travel. The boom in, and easy access to, platforms such as AirBnB or private-to-private rentals has led to soaring property prices in many global metropolises. Moreover, they have made the all-inclusive model less attractive, and most airline-backed travel agencies must compete with low-cost rivals accustomed to social dumping.
Although the growth of low-cost airlines and cruise ships has encouraged irresponsible transhumance, tourism remains a minority luxury for the world as a whole. It is estimated that 95% of the world’s population has never flown, and just 10% of Americans say they travel abroad, compared to 25% of the French. Although the increase in the world’s population puts these percentages in perspective each year, the real growth in tourism is primarily a consequence of the boom in the middle class, particularly in developing countries like China. Moreover, beyond the mass, the nature of tourism has expanded considerably: in addition to business travel, for which the semi-remote tools recently demonstrated the relative need, globalization has encouraged the geographical expansion of our family units, imposing the emergence of tourism that is much more identity-based than in the past. This is a phenomenon that is not ready to stop, and therefore condemns the sector to embrace sustainable issues now.
The challenges ahead
In order to address the sustainable challenges of global tourism, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) has established a sustainable tourism programme called “One Planet”. Its aim is to develop “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, responding to the needs of visitors, professionals, the environment and host communities”. To this end, it defines three pillars that are directly linked to the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations:
1. Optimising the exploitation of environmental resources as a key element of tourism life, preserving the local environment, natural resources and biodiversity
2. Respect the sociocultural authenticity of host communities (built, living and traditional values) and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance;
3. Ensure long-term sustainable socio-economic security for all stakeholders (stable employment, benefits, social services for host communities) and reduce poverty
New issues that our forced retirements in recent months should help us to meditate.