Posted: November 7th, 2023
Global Tourism in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic
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November 7, 2023
Global Tourism in the Aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tourism continues to be one of the hardest hit economic sectors by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite significant gains in the resumption of global travel being realized, a long-term outlook for the industry remains uncertain. International bodies and experts anticipate that international tourism should resume its pre-pandemic levels, but there are concerns about whether the industry could recover fully. Nevertheless, two years after the pandemic, the tourism sector has undergone significant structural and behavioural changes that introduce new trends and patterns of travel and consumption. There is a radical shift towards virtual tourism, a preference for local and regional destinations, and the increased influence of perceived risk on the willingness to travel. Practitioners in the tourism sector must develop a comprehensive understanding of these changes to attract visitors and boost the industry’s performance above pre-pandemic levels. While the pandemic did disrupt the tourism sector, it also presented new opportunities for domestic and regional travel, digital tourism, the prioritization of perceived risk in anticipation of travel patterns and tourist behaviours, and the entry of a much younger tourist demographic.
The Emergence of Virtual Tourism
There is growing optimism about the role of virtual tourism as a viable business option in the tourism industry. Past researchers and experts highlighted the importance of technology in the future growth of tourism (Verma et al., 2022). The coronavirus pandemic increased the traction in the adoption of technology. The digitalization of tourism has led to new fields, such as e-tourism, smart tourism, and virtual tourism (Verma et al., 2022). E-tourism centers on digital excursions facilitated by ICT tools, whereas smart tourism entails using smart technologies like cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). Digital tourism revolves around the convergence of the physical and digital worlds (Verma et al., 2022). In their simplest forms, the new online approaches to tourism include tourist destinations that users can see and hear from the comfort of their digital technologies. Virtual tourism is growing in popularity because it allows people to visit anywhere in real time. The shift to online tourism marks a post-pandemic behavioural change among tourists that still emphasizes social distancing.
Tourism marketers are facing increasing pressures to innovate new forms of virtual imagery that make virtual tourism more tangible for customers. The computer-generated 3D user has to rely on his or her five senses to immerse themselves in the virtual experience (Akthar et al., 2021). It is logical to conclude that how well marketers can make the virtual experience tangible shall determine the acceptance and increased use of virtual tourism. The technology promises to reveal opportunities for destination tourism for consumer segments that prefer site-specific travel. Research shows that virtual tourism tends to follow the hedonistic intentions and emotional experiences of tourist users (Verma et al., 2022). The suggestion is that tourism marketers can use virtual tourism to design and implement new experiences that can capture tourist requirements and desires in greater detail. The technology can assist in establishing new, genuine, and navigable experiences, offering it an advantage over traditional tourism.
Post-pandemic virtual tourism has prompted the emergence of ‘immersion’ as a marketing concept when tailoring tourist experiences. According to Godovykh et al. (2022), technology has elevated consumer expectations, especially concerning interactivity. The growth of virtual tourism comes with associated changes in consumer expectations and behaviours that marketers must address. Fortunately, the array of VR technologies offers different approaches to immersion. For instance, augmented reality mimics real-world environments to project virtual objects as authentic ones. The outcome is enhanced visual immersion for the consumer (Verma et al., 2022). Virtual reality can engage multiple senses in diverse ways, offering a more immersive experience than traditional tourism. Body equipment, such as head gears and helmets, deliver psychological immersion. Therefore, VR does not only create opportunities for stimulating user senses but also for creating emotional experiences and attachments. Global tourism can never go to what it was before the coronavirus pandemic as more research and innovation on immersion is conducted.
An Increased Effect of Perceived Risk on Travel
Post-pandemic tourism entails a deeper consideration of perceived risk in determining travel intent. Risk is described as a subjective feeling associated with uncertainty (Meng et al., 2021). The term is conceptualized as the determinant of anticipated losses, where each potential outcome has a specified probability. Perceived risk in contemporary tourism is multifaceted and comprises numerous risk factors. Recent trends highlight that people will avoid travelling if the perceived risk ranges from moderate to high (Meng et al., 2021). However, people have different criteria for determining perceived risk. Teeroovengadum et al. (2021) propose three dimensions of assessing perceived risk: magnitude, anxiety, and efficacy. Magnitude evaluates the severity of the perceived risk, whereas anxiety assesses the user’s feelings of concern and nervousness. On the other hand, efficacy centers on a tourist offering’s ability to address safety concerns (Meng et al., 2021; Teeroovengadum et al., 2021). Contemporary marketers must apply the three dimensions to map risk perceptions for each tourist destination or package.
Perceived risk is inducing a behavioural change among people as there is a shift from long to short stays. Prajapati et al. (2022) report that short stays, otherwise known as micro-vacations, will undoubtedly grow in popularity. The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of sustainability at the individual and corporate levels. Modern travelers are keen to travel to destinations without adverse and long-lasting financial implications (Prajapati et al., 2022). On the other hand, marketers have to offer experiences that are accessible and affordable. The common approach has been to replace lengthy vacations with shorter visits. Markets will include more destinations but with shorter travel distances. Growing public concern over the environmental impacts of tourism is another reason encouraging the shift from long to short stays (Prajapati et al., 2022). People are more aware of how travel contributes to global warming and the deterioration of fauna and flora in popular travel destinations. The overarching goal for the tourism sector to reduce its carbon footprint will continue facilitating the change in vacation stay preferences.
Because people still observe social distancing to some extent and prefer reduced mobility in travel, tourism has seen the emergence and growth of community-based tourism. Verma et al.’s (2022) research on VR tourism highlights that the contemporary user is more in pursuit of authentic experiences. Community-based tourism is perceived as an alternative for achieving this function while maintaining the preference for short travel (Lo & Janta, 2020). Community-based tourism involves residents inviting visitors to experience their unique cultural and physical offerings. Community members provide the resources required to offer authentic and immersive experiences. The approach is perceived as more reliable and less risky in delivering interactive and immersive travel (Lo & Janta, 2020). One benefit of community-based tourism is that it has provided marketers access to reserved, forgotten, and isolated destinations at reduced distances. Travelers are able to associate their cultural consumption with the empowerment of locals, which aligns with tenets of sustainability.
An Increased Reliance on Domestic Tourism
The digitization of culture is pushing more potential tourists toward consuming local content. Outdoor landmarks are not the only destinations that consumers can access via virtual technologies. Mohanty et al. (2020) discuss cultural institutions, such as libraries and museums, and their increased role in contemporary art. Such cultural spaces experienced drastic reductions in visitor numbers due to pandemic-related restrictions. However, the shift to virtual tourism is resulting in the re-emergence of cultural institutions. For instance, artists are focusing more on delivering virtual galleries and pursuing digital collections to attract the attention of contemporary visitors (LaBreck, 2020). Marketers should anticipate an increase in digital cultural initiatives carried out by cultural institutions through social media. The trend highlights the increasing reliance on social media platforms to improve access to cultural materials for the tourism sector. The digitization of culture is facilitating the expansion of community-based tourism. It is becoming common for artists and cultural institutions, such as Ministries of Arts and Culture, to hold virtual community events (LaBreck, 2020). Such virtual opportunities are critical in advancing local content in tourism.
With the gradual shift towards domestic tourism, the tourism industry is bound to record an increase in outdoor travel compared to experiential tourism. Restrictions on foreign travel incentivized people and marketers to identify alternative tourism packages within domestic markets (Prajapati et al., 2022). Consumer preference for short stays with superior quality experiences prompts many to discover hidden attractions within country borders. For consumers still wanting to travel overseas, a trip to a neighboring country has become a more viable option. Prajapati et al. (2022) believe that there has been an increase in the marketing of regional tourism packages since the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers are beginning foreign travel by first visiting adjacent nations and eventually commencing long-haul travel. The change in tourist behaviour is another instance highlighting the increased reliance on domestic tourism in the recovery and expansion of post-pandemic global tourism.
The improved access and attraction of domestic tour packages offer the younger generation opportunities to travel and tour. In traditional tourism, marketers would prioritize offerings for elderly retirees, which were characterized by long-distance travel, long stays, and high pricing (Prajapati et al., 2022). Domestic tourism appeals to a different tourist demographic. Local offerings are less pricey and target the short-stay consumer (Prajapati et al., 2022). Young travelers have less disposable income and time to travel, which means they are more attracted to domestic tour packages. In addition, young travelers are more physically attractive, which explains the surge in outdoor travel. The growth of the younger generation in global tourism contributes to the increasing popularity of road trips (Prajapati et al., 2022). Young people will want to spend some time on travel to reach location destinations, surrounded by local cultures and fauna and flora.
Once perceived as a threat to the tourism industry, the coronavirus pandemic became the catapult for industry-wide changes for sustained future growth and expansion. The epidemic had sociological, economic, cultural, and physiological impacts on global tourism that will remain the subject of scientific debate for some time. However, existing observations indicate that future practices in the hospitality industry will include hotels with smart facilities to facilitate virtual tourism. Augmented technologies and the concept of immersion will shape consumer expectations of the typical hotel experience. Changing perceptions of perceived risk in the tourism sector will reinforce particular consumer behaviours, such as the preference for short-stays and short-distance travel. The changing consumer behaviours, will, in turn, support the growth of market segments, such as outdoor travel, the shared economy, and regional tourism. The resultant implication is the growth of domestic tourism and its increasing importance in expanding global tourism.
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