Back to travelling after the crisis

Tourism in the time of pandemic
View from Corcovado (Rio de Janeiro - Brazil)

No longer than a year ago, the UNWTO, the World Tourism Organization, declared that, with over a billion tourists traveling to international destinations, tourism is to be considered the primary economic sector, whose turnover contributes to 10% of GDP and 6% of total exports worldwide. For a long time, travel has been the most powerful and appreciated factor of social stratification, the material with which new social, political, economic and cultural hierarchies have been increasingly constructed and reconstructed on a global scale. Now the agency official website page calls for a strong political support and joint action to rebuild confidence and kick-start tourism.

A year after the pandemic people no longer travel, or at least, they travel little and only for strictly necessary reasons. The images of the world we are receiving are harsh; they have nothing to do with the white beaches, turquoise seas or smiling faces in traditional costumes that we are used to. Nonetheless wide world there is pressure to organize a safe world. Vaccination passports, border checkpoints, access-controlled restaurants, hotels, ships, trains and Covid tested flights must guarantee the right to mobility for all.

Travel is being designed and corridors are being opened to destinations with assured vaccinations; the Maldives, Seychelles, Dubai and the United States are privileged partners in the protocol drawn up on the parameters of the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate. Tourism is necessary and essential, an important growth factor, so far considered exponential and unlimited. The pandemic has shown its discrepancies.

Stopping in front of the Buddha (Nara - Japan)
Stopping in front of the Buddha (Nara – Japan)
Freedom of movement

We have forgotten that the right to recreational mobility was and is a privilege for a few people belonging to the globe rich regions. The growing abolition of visas in many countries is joined to the tightening of border controls in others: a subtle and discriminating way of separating the tourists from the undesirables; those having the right to move and from those not having it, in a world erecting borders, where the only ones travelling are those fleeing wars and famine. At present the separation and exclusion in space talks about inequality, the one between tourists and migrants, but also the one between tourists and local people.

Market scenarios

In the world southern countries, the very same tourism that has been widely called to solve problems and benefit local communities, and in which widespread investments have been made, risks to upset furthermore their fragile economies. Large tour operators, cruise, airline companies and hotel chains, which have always centralized the entire travel package in their hands, in an all-inclusive, protected and insured way, will in fact leave very little at the arrival destinations, because excursions, free shopping and opportunities to meet the population will be reduced to a minimum.

Children welcoming tourists (Oasis - Morocco)
Children welcoming tourists (Oasis – Morocco)

Dependence on global markets now shows its full vulnerability; it is unthinkable not to take into account the crisis following the pandemic in economic, environmental and social terms. Covid has changed the geopolitical map of the planet where many jobs and businesses depend on the tourism industry. What will occur soon in Brazil, Africa or even here in our small Italy?

The focus on the economic side, on numerical flows, transport or investments undermines the sites of the tourist experience revealing their fragility. We no longer remember the gigantic ships appearing from the background of St Mark’s Square in Venice or Florence, Rome and other cities of art, destinations of mass organized circuits with their problems of over tourism and gentrification. Once again, the dilemma of the sector comes up: resource or exploitation? The paradox lies on its blurred boundary.

For a culture of tourism

The pandemic offers us the opportunity to reconsider the kind of tourism – incoming and outgoing – we would like for our future; to rethink its assumptions in a new vision that goes beyond the narrow horizon of tomorrow. Although we certainly cannot get out of the market – according to Serge Latouche never being fair by nature – we may wish for one being more human and supportive, respectful of our life framework. This period of suspension has made us aware there is a different pace from the whirling speed we have become accustomed and the unbridled consumption of goods and services that are functional to the founding myth of the capitalist market society.

We could take advantage of this to adopt good practices that respect the environment, cultivate common spaces and look after our heritage. So not just cultural tourism, but a culture of tourism to set back the human being, his places and his community to the center of our choices.

The market (Pisac - Peru)
The market (Pisac – Peru)

Barbara Tagliolini

Art historian and anthropologist (DEA at EHESS Paris), has a background in international cooperation. She works in sustainable tourism design in Chile for multinational companies, municipalities and indigenous communities and in Italy as a consultant in the field of tourism, communication and cultural development of the territory. From 2003 to 2009 she taught Cultural Mediation Techniques and Museum Education for Tourism at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. Author of various essays and publications, she is also a licensed tourist guide in Rome.