Two weeks ago, the United Nations declared February 17 as International Tourism Resilience Day to be recognized annually, starting this month. This dedication acknowledges how the tourism industry has been affected by external factors such as the pandemic, as well as how far the industry has come in the wake of crises.

The goal of marking this as an international day is to increase awareness by educating the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and celebrate all that has been achieved to rectify the industry post pandemic.

Tourism global impact

For many nations around the globe, tourism is a major source of income, foreign currency earnings, tax revenue and employment. In fact, tourism supports millions of direct and indirect jobs all over the world, especially for young people and young women in particular. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the industry accounts for over 20 percent of gross domestic product in many small island states and developing countries.

Effect of the pandemic on tourism

Tourism has an estimated economic contribution of over 1.9 trillion in 2021, up from 1.6 trillion in 2020, but this is still nowhere near the 3.0 trillion the industry was at before the pandemic. These numbers put into perspective the drastic effect the pandemic had on tourism, and therefore countries that rely heavily on the benefits tourism has on their economy.

Although there has been promising growth so far since the low in 2020, there is still much more opportunity for growth. The sharp decline in the tourism industry has disproportionately affected smaller developing countries, with some relying on tourism for nearly 80% of exports. This has impacted female workers especially, as they make up over half of the workforce in the industry. Tourism businesses are typically small businesses that focus on leisure activities and souvenir-type goods, and therefore even more vulnerable to crises. 90% of museums had to close during the pandemic, and 13% will not reopen.

There are also many indirect ways the pandemic has affected the tourism sector. The sudden fall in tourism cuts off funding for biodiversity conservation, as 7% of world tourism relates to wild life, a section of the industry that is only growing. It has also drastically affected intangible cultural heritage practices such as festivals and handicraft markets.

Resilient tourism

As the tourism sector is on the mend and continuously rebuilding, there is the memory of the pandemic in the rear view mirror as a reminder of the importance of resilience. Resilience, or the ability to stay consistent in the event of a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, is crucial for any industry but especially for a relatively vulnerable one such as tourism.

How T-Crisis-Nav is supporting resilient tourism

The Navigating Tourism Crisis Recovery (T-CRISIS-NAV) project is working to teach SMEs and future entrepreneurs in the tourism sector to gain skills needed to be successful and navigate their business through a crisis. With the help of T-CRISIS-NAV, they will be able to analyze the extent of the crisis and develop suitable countermeasures to navigate a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

After two years of the T-CRISIS-NAV project, the team met up this past October in Iceland to develop a better understanding of how micro businesses in the country responded to the Covid 19 pandemic. Iceland had a unique case in regards to the tourism sector because it actually displayed an increase in visitor numbers in comparison to pre-pandemic. This case study is helping to inform the content of the educational modules being developed by the project to help entrepreneurs and decision makers in the industry be better prepared for future crises.

The educational resources will be available through the app, which will allow them to be accessible to a wide audience, but also in educational workshops with partner countries. These events will take place in late spring.

To learn more about T-CRISIS-NAV and see the latest updates in the project, visit our website and follow us on Facebook

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UNWTO Tourism and COVID-19– unprecedented economic impacts

United Nations Global Tourism Resilience Day 17 February

On our recent partner visit to Iceland we were lucky enough to get to enjoy a trip around the Caves of Hella, it was a very interesting experience, one that all of the partners enjoyed thoroughly. The guides within the caves are full of knowledge and fun! The perfect combination. They answered questions, posed mysteries to us and generally made us all think a little deeper about where we come from and our own history!

The Caves of Hella is a family run heritage tourism enterprise which was launched shortly before the COVID-19 crisis hit.  The enterprise is built around twelve man made caves of an unknown origin. For centuries, the caves had been used to keep livestock, hay, food, and even as an cold storage for food.  The main goal of the enterprise was to continue the restoration of the caves and opening it to the public .The main product is guided tours through the caves.

Historical site – Guided tours – cultural/heritage tourism 

Special challenges and problems faced by the company

The product and the business had been in preparation for four years. The business model was centered around offering tours in English for foreign tourists. The content of the tours was all based on stories catered to foreign audience. Thus, all marketing material and product/service variety focused on that group​

The business had just been launched when the COVID-19 crisis hit, and the number of foreign tourists in the country plummeted dramatically.

Therefore, Caves of Hella was faced with a complete disappearance of their target group. Approaching the summer of 2020, the company readjusted its business model in order to attract domestic tourists.

When tourism came to a complete stop due to COVID the owners had to adjust the structure “overnight” as one of the owners expressed. Their focus needed to go from global tourists to domestic tourists. They had to think fast, how they could attract new customers and what changes needed to be done to the product for the domestic market.

In order to find out what the domestic market wanted they needed to act fast. But how could they amend their business model that had been four years in the making, for a new market group?

They realized soon that they had to tell a different story than originally planned.  Stories about elves and the hidden people were popular amongst foreign tourists but they were not that novel to Icelanders. To relate their tour to the domestic market they told stories about known domestic saga and historical persons.  It was the same tour but with different content.

More focus was put on the storyteller.  Effort was made to hire local, known, and exceptionally good storytellers in order to deliver top experience.

The new tour for domestic tourists was a success, and the attendance was very good the summer 2020. There were at least three tours each day during the summer and not one was canceled due to poor participation.

We started with this one tour, and I think there were about 200-300 people, so we just thought, “ohh shit”, we must increase the number of tours.

-One of the owners-

The key to their success, one of the owners expressed; was to be in good contact with the new customers, listen extremely carefully to their wishes, needs and comments and amend the tour according to those reviews.