Research - 17.03.2021 - 00:00 

Tourism: a long rise from the pandemic

The Research Centre for Tourism and Transport at the HSG has assessed the situation of “Tourism in times of the pandemic” for the third time: the transition period, which hopefully will start soon, will be bumpy and take a long time, but will also create many new opportunities.

17 March 2021. International tourism is currently in the doldrums, as are the many companies which earn their money from it – also in Switzerland. The partial rescue – only for areas outside the cities, though – has primarily come from domestic tourism in the last few months. What this summer will be like remains to be seen. Depending on the number of infection cases, vaccination coverage, official travel restrictions and a number of other factors, different tourist flow patterns may be expected. The sole at least short-term stable element in the present situation is the volatility of developments.

According to Pietro Beritelli, one of the co-authors, the colleagues are able to draw a reasonably consistent picture of the future nonetheless. “Swiss people have been able to rediscover their own country in the last few months and have been grateful for the many positive experiences.” Some even spoke of a new appreciation on the part of guests or the gratitude for high-quality leisure options that this country makes available to its captive population. It can be assumed that these experiences will result in a consolidation of Switzerland’s market share after the pandemic – after years of market share losses.

Wish for flexibility and sustainability

According to another co-author of the study, Thomas Bieger, a number of behaviour changes on the part of the guests will be sustainable, as it were. They include a wish for flexibility and thus the short-term nature of travel decisions, or the trend towards an essentialisation and thus also sustainability of travel, as well as the development away from groups towards individual tourism. Active exercise combined with consciously healthy and natural nutrition instead of a passive consumption of attractions are examples that have already been pointing in this direction for some time. However, the tendency towards longer stays, which is increasing again for the first time, might be a further indication of this, for they are not merely the result of cancelled short business trips. The wish for more space, however, has not only been driven by the pandemic but could be observed for a longer period of time, along with the space requirements in flats. Conversely, digitalisation and its instruments have received a veritable boost and will become even more indispensable in the future.

Challenges for tourism companies

According to Christian Laesser, who also co-authored the study, tourism companies will increasingly have to prepare themselves for these changes in behaviour. “It’s becoming a challenge to map guests’ greater expectations with regard to a flexibilisation of the nature and provision of the range of products and services.” Furthermore, capital structures will have to be put back on track again after the often credit-financed losses. Then funds will have to be raised in order to reduce the investment backlog. Since bank funding is becoming more and more difficult under the great current financial stress, alternative sources will have to be found. Besides capital increases and shareholder’s profit participation loans, models with the government as a new or major investor are also conceivable. The next few months will show what solutions are really feasible.

Three stages: pandemic – redevelopment – new normal

Basically, the “binary” model of a pandemic and a post-pandemic stage has been superseded by the three-stage model in the experts’ view:

  1. Pandemic stage, characterised by more or less intensive operating bans and restrictions. This is about safeguarding liquidity and the short-term exploitation of business opportunities. Operational agility is required.
  2. Redevelopment stage, characterised by the successive opening of individual markets and a clear-cut opening strategy. Here, the focus is on safeguarding margins.
  3. New normal stage, characterised by the complete, credible lifting of all limitations to fundamental rights with a “new” demand moulded by the experiences of the pandemic (individual, fewer groups, more short-term, focused on quality (space) and sustainability).

Image: Adobe Stock / Wirestock

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