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A Brave New World: Travel and Tourism in a Post Covid Society

Trinity Business School co-hosted recently with Trinity Research in Social Sciences its online event “Travel and Tourism in a Post Covid Society". The talk was chaired by Professor Brian Lucey, Director of Research at Trinity Business School, and focused on analysing the repercussions for tourism, one of the world’s biggest industries.

This timely discussion featured a range of international experts, which included Professor Denise O'Leary from Technological University Dublin, Professor Brent Ritchie from the University of Queensland and Professor Jane Ali-Knight from Edinburgh Napier University.
Professor O’Leary opened the discussion by analysing the measurable impact covid-19 will have on the industry, pointing to data that is indicating a 60-80% decline in international tourism due to covid-19, along with a 1000 billion euro loss for the industry as a direct impact of the pandemic.

She pointed to the response of the market, where people are looking in the short-term to local and regional areas for their holidaymaking. Businesses are training staff and developing their digital capabilities so they can adapt to the developing situation and respond quicker to the dearth in international travel and instead focusing on local tourism opportunities.

Professor Brent Ritchie from the University of Queensland gave his initial observations on the topic from Down Under, noting how recovery times will be staggered across the world based on the individual cases of countries, therefore posing a challenge for the uniform recovery of the tourism sector.

Taking into account insights from previous crisis and disasters, Professor Ritchie provided an overview of response phase policy to date, which included the success of targeted relief packages for travel and tourism, country restrictions on travel, and the industry’s investment in ‘top of mind’ marketing which is tracking consumer segment sentiments on returning to international travel.

He summarised that the longer term recovery will be slow, but there are positive signs to observe going forward. One potential scenario could be cross-country corridors being developed between countries with low numbers of cases, as is the case in both New Zealand and Australia, who are currently exploring this possibility. Professor Ritchie was quite concerned on some of the negative outcomes, particularly where businesses and organisations are quitting industry associations due to costs. He highlighted the essential role industry associations can play in scenario planning by providing the time, money and expertise many tourism businesses lack themselves in order to develop 'what if' scenarios.

A slide from Professor Brent Ritchie's presentation discussing the longer term recovery of the tourism sector.

Professor Jane Ali-Knight from Edinburgh Napier University gave the perspective of the Festival City, which relies heavily on the tourism sector year round. Over 130 events have already been cancelled or postponed so far, placing significant challenges on the industry in Edinburgh. Initial industry research has indicated that 31% of employers have reduced staff numbers with a likelihood of further losses in the future.

Feedback from the events industry has been that there is a reduced appetite for commercial risk from festival organisers; there is a need for guidelines, timescale and clarity; retaining their expert workforce to restart the sector when the time comes; and the need for clear and consistent health and safety advice for events in the ‘new normal’.

Professor Al-Knight emphasised that this new normal has created the opportunity to rethink the festival delivery model, pointing to festival organisers who are indicating that there is a real need now to deliver sustainable festivals, and in terms of the real value of the arts, which are much more than just a branding exercise.

Other positive developments include the move to more digital and virtual events and the realisation of the value of festivals and events to the fabric of society. On the other hand, festival and events will be the last to recover due to the nature of their delivery and reliance on income from patrons.

Asked about the potential for a rapid rebound of international tourism, Professor Ritchie pointed to recent research of his from March of this year on the Chinese tourist market. Of 1200 respondents surveyed across China, only 10% responded that they would travel internationally for tourism upon the lifting of restrictions, with the majority opting for short local holidays in their area.

Professor Lucy finished the talk by publishing results from a survey taken earlier in the talk, which asked the audience about their sentiments on Ireland and its tourism sector.

82 respondents took part in the survey carried out during the event talk.

The event is viewable here.

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