Sunday 27 September is World Tourism Day.  An annual event, this years theme is tourism and rural development, intended by the UNWTO to celebrate the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of big cities and preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world.


Crises at the level tourism has experienced in 2020 was obviously unexpected, although ironically will have assisted the tourism flow into the regions and outside of big cities as was the strategic intent.  In normal years, the complaint is that international visitors don’t travel far enough past the city gateways and main attractions to disburse across the regions.   With no international visitors permitted (to Australia and New Zealand for example), the domestic market has totally reversed the flow.  City dwellers are flocking to regional areas as border and local regulation permits, with domestic visitation boosting some regions well beyond normal levels.  The usually bustling cities are a shadow of their former selves, as Working From Home shifts workers to suburbs and consumers look to the greater outdoors and smaller centres for their escape.   CBD hotel occupancy rates are at frighteningly low numbers, potentially as a consequence of some providing quarantine services, not at all attractive to the broader market during a pandemic. 

In this context, tourism has yet again contributed to solving an economic challenge.  For the regions at least, while highlighting just how reliant the cities had been on the large scale visitor flows that had been taken for granted.   The tourism industry is rightly frustrated that the decisions to shut down borders, without necessarily having a clear and valid criteria to support the extreme measures, ignore the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.  Tourism employs one in every ten people on earth.  Because of the pandemic 100-120 million jobs are at risk, with many of those likely to be women or youth, particularly those who work in the casual or informal economy.   Local industries are already seeing the significant scale of job losses, with at least 30% of jobs disappearing permanently from tourism and travel related organisations, with the remaining roles being largely scaled back in terms of hours and confidence in their tenure. 

Innovation and rationalisation will ultimately take place and over coming years the industry, with its entrenched place in global society, will rebuild and come back stronger.  Communities have wanted to take control back from excessive visitor numbers, while retaining the benefits of tourism, particularly when it comes to enabling revenue for investment and the preservation of local culture, heritage sites, wildlife and eco-systems.   This is an extraordinary chance to do so, and the industry and community will be better for it.  What we must do however, is to ensure that there is urgent investment in protecting the core strengths of the industry, including ensuring the survival of established, quality organisations in the business of both supply and distribution.  The businesses that clearly add value to the delivery of the economic and social benefits of tourism, and in turn provide employment and growth opportunities to so many people. 

Tourism is too big an industry and contributor to society, to not be protected and assisted through this challenging period.  The underlying health of the sector, and those millions of people in it is at stake.