The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the travel industry forever, with one impact being the acceleration of trends for more local and sustainable tourism.
The pandemic has been hugely disruptive for tourism, with travel restrictions and lockdowns implemented worldwide since March in order to contain the spread of the virus. This has affected all kinds of tourism, but particularly international travel as many countries have maintained strict controls on the entry of non-citizens, with some banning international arrivals entirely.
Domestic tourism has also been badly impacted by the pandemic and lockdowns which have prevented people travelling outside of their local areas. Nevertheless, as the summer saw some travel restrictions eased, domestic vacations became an attractive option for those still unable to travel abroad. The pandemic has also further highlighted the possibilities of eco-friendly travel as a way to reduce our impact on the environment. These trends may be here to stay as the pandemic continues to disrupt the global travel industry.
Local Travel An Attractive Option
Vacationing closer to home has become an appealing prospect during the pandemic for several reasons. Travelers in some countries have been prevented from taking trips abroad completely as international borders have been closed and flights suspended, forcing them to look for local vacations instead. Many people have also been deterred from travelling abroad due to the risks posed by COVID-19 and because they lack travel insurance cover for the disease.
The economic damage caused by the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns has also resulted in significant job layoffs and income losses, causing people to turn to cheaper domestic vacations rather than more expensive overseas trips.
In response to the loss of business caused by the lack of international visitors, many hotels and travel companies have offered local’s deals in order to attract customers. In the UK for example, Tourism Northern Ireland has devised a ‘Holiday at Home’ voucher program, which would give local people up to £70 to spend on accommodation and attractions. Other companies, such as Wilderness Scotland and Wild Frontiers, are pivoting to offer vacations catering to local travellers and destinations rather than international visitors.
Changes in tourism patterns are being reflected in the data – according to hotel consultancy HVS, 60% of UK hotel demand this summer came from domestic sources. In North America, data from Airbnb showed that domestic bookings in Canada were up 30% in the first week of June compared to the previous year, while a survey by Kampgrounds of America Inc. found that the share of camping trips on the continent had increased to 16%, from 11% pre-pandemic.
These changes are showing that travelers are increasingly taking vacations in which they explore their local areas rather than overseas locations. This increase in local travel is likely to continue over the short-term, as restrictions remain in place while vaccines are rolled out and the pandemic is slowly brought under control.
It may also become a more popular long-term trend, as people discover new local travel destinations and attractions and recognise the lower cost of domestic vacations – spurring them to continue returning to new favourite spots within their own countries.
Sustainable Travel Showing The Way Forward
As well as local travel, there is also potential for more sustainable travel to gain in popularity amid the pandemic and increasing concerns over the climate crisis. Indeed, the growing trend for local travel is more sustainable in itself, as tourists are more likely to reach their destination by car or train rather than flying, and also travel shorter distances, resulting in a much smaller carbon footprint.
Sustainable travel was already becoming more popular before the pandemic began, with a number of travel companies, tour operators and hotels offering eco-friendly trips to travelers wary of their impact on the planet.
Randy Durband, the CEO of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which establishes environmentally-friendly standards for travel worldwide, has said that “We’ve seen growth in awareness and concern for more sustainable forms of travel and tourism in recent years”, with an increase in demand for rail travel in Western Europe particularly.
Aside from local travel, there is also growing interest in sustainable destinations worldwide, with a number of countries offering eco-friendly tourism. Costa Rica has long been a favoured destination for environmentally-conscious travelers, and this is set to continue with the country aiming to become the world’s first carbon-neutral nation in 2021. With its lush rainforests, beautiful beaches and unparalleled biodiversity, Costa Rica is sure to remain a top vacation spot for eco-friendly travelers.
Other destinations have also been highlighting their green credentials, for example Copenhagen in Denmark, which aims to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025 and boasts extensive public transport and bicycle lanes which make it easy to explore the city’s many attractions. Meanwhile in Africa, Gabon has positioned itself as a haven for eco-friendly wildlife-watchers, with 13 national parks covering huge areas of pristine rainforest teeming with animals.
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