Resources for Tourism Recovery

The DSC’s Cultural Heritage Editor, Lucy Matthews, has been scouring the Internet for information that might help destinations plan a reboot as the pandemic recedes. Here’s what she found – from WTTC, UNWTO, and, interestingly, the U.S. state of Maryland.

Better Stewardship – a Pandemic Recovery Trend

It’s no trade secret that the tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Travel & Tourism: Economic Impact 2021 report, the industry experienced a dramatic decline from a total GDP contribution of 10.4% in 2019 to 5.5% in 2020, and job numbers fell from 334 million (2019) to 272 million (2020).

The WTTC report from September 2020, “To Recovery & Beyond: The Future of Travel & Tourism in the Wake of COVID-19,” suggests a variety of trends for the industry’s recovery, including that “the world has been re-invigorated to tackle social, environmental, and institutional sustainability” and the moment is right for the tourism industry to “enact meaningful changes that will transform the world and make a lasting difference for future generations.”

The report highlights the importance of destination preparedness, and that “local tourism councils” can “help boost destination stewardship as local communities drive action for preservation of cultural and natural assets.”

This was also a theme coming out of the late September 2020 virtual discussion, “Culture, Tourism and COVID-19: Recovery, Resiliency and Rejuvenation,” arranged by UNESCO with IUCN, ICOMOS, and ICCROM, with speakers advocating “a shift towards tourism that regenerates destinations and provides economic, social and environmental benefits.”

These statements echo that this moment could be what the Destination Stewardship Center’s (DSC) Jonathan Tourtellot called “A Destination Management Opportunity.” A moment to take stock of what tourism has been and what we would like it to be in the future.

In March 2021, the Future of Tourism Coalition (comprising the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), DSC, Green Destinations, Sustainable Travel International, Tourism Cares, and the Travel Foundation) hosted the opening webinar of its “Reset Tourism” series with a session led by CREST and DSC on “Destination Stewardship and Stakeholder Engagement.” (See the story in the Spring 2021 issue of the Destination Stewardship Report). The presentation advocates for looking holistically at destinations for better tourism management. The management approach, recommendations from the session about how to set up a destination stewardship council, and on-the-ground expertise from an esteemed panel of destination representatives provide a regenerative blueprint for destinations coming out of the pandemic. Other webinars in the series led by other Coalition organizations include “Measuring Tourism’s Impacts and Success,” and “Local and Sustainable Supply Chains.” (See accompanying story in this issue of the Destination Stewardship Report).

Another good resource is “How Can Destinations Resume Tourism After the Pandemic, While Ensuring Sustainability?” from The Place Brand Observer in partnership with the Sustainability Leaders Project and a variety of contributors from August 2020. Florian Kaefer, editor of The Place Brand Observer, wrote about the white paper in “After Covid, 10 Ways for Destinations To Manage Tourism Better” in DSC’s Autumn 2020 Destination Stewardship Report. The paper looks not only at pandemic recovery but also at how destinations can be “resilient in the face of future crises.” Adding that “this is the moment where success will depend on courage, and the power of imagination of a ‘different’ destination – one with greater local participation, and a smaller ecological footprint.”

Destination stewardship should be a key element of tourism’s recovery, with potential to maximize the benefits for all, from the tourists to the communities, environment, heritage, industry, and governments. The pandemic has impacted us all – let’s ensure that the solutions do too.

Recovery Resources

A variety of resources that can help track the industry’s progress.

WTTC Resources

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has developed sector-specific protocols for travel safety and recovery (such as for hospitality, outdoor shopping, aviation, tour operators, and more). These protocols, while from May 2020, still provide helpful avenues to navigate resiliency for the sector from the pandemic and future crises.

WTTC also developed a Safe Travels Stamp for public and private sector stakeholders that are reaching WTTC’s global health and safety standards. The idea is that the stamp provides a sort of seal of approval of health measures being taken, thus providing peace of mind for the traveler. The WTTC website has a map of what destinations have received the stamp, delineated by country or sub region.

The WTTC Travel Demand Recovery Dashboard shows both a regional and segment overview of Google travel searches, as well as movement and booking behaviors. There are also downloadable global and regional recovery scenarios from November 2020.

There is also information about Government COVID-19 Policies and the G20 Recovery Plan.

The One in 330 Million initiative shares the stories of the people involved in the tourism industry, including the impacts of the pandemic on their livelihoods.

UNWTO Resources

The UNWTO Tourism Data Dashboard includes:

  • UNWTO/IATA Destination Tracker. Search by country to see Covid percent positivity rates, vaccination rates, air travel and country restrictions, and more.
  • UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. See information overall, by region, destination etc., in terms of tourism arrivals, travel restrictions, accommodation, air travel, and more.
  • International Tourism and COVID-19. See pandemic impacts on tourism on a global, regional, or country scale, including arrivals, monthly and YTD change, vulnerability of destination, and impact assessment.

Additional resources

Particularly for US-related resources, I recommend also taking a look at the Maryland Office of Tourism Development’s Covid-19 Travel and Tourism Research Resources. When I started searching for industry recovery resources, I found Maryland’s list to be relatively robust from an American perspective, and some resources may also be useful for other markets. A selection:

What other tourism resources have you found useful for pandemic recovery? Leave a comment below.

Pandemic Tourism Brings Surprises to Serbia

? Destination Stewardship Report – Autumn 2020 ?

With borders closed by Covid this past summer, Serbians accustomed to coastal-resort holidays instead toured inside their own country. Ivana Damnjanović reports on the mixed impact on rural destinations when tourists accustomed to one style of travel must adapt to another. Some lessons for the future.

Domestic Destinations Cope With Profitable, Unpracticed Tourists

By Ivana Damnjanović

“Welcome out here to our contamination zone,” my hosts say, jokingly alluding to the name I attributed to Serbian destinations swarming with tourists in the midst of the new peak of coronavirus. It is almost unimaginable that Divčibare mountain, located just over a 100km southwest of Belgrade, had resembled a ghost place in March and April 2020. The pandemic then brought destinations to the verge of despair all over the world, and Serbia was no exception. Now, with summer almost ending, I watch people queuing for a table in this traditional local restaurant. For the first time ever it occurs to me: What a thin line there is between undertourism and overtourism.

Serbian tourists dine pandemic-style. Photo: Ivana Damnjanović

This unprecedented burst of post-lockdown pent-up need to travel, to move, to change surroundings, to experience, to unwind and forget reassures me once again that this urge is inherent in our species. International visitors have had to stay away, but for Serbia, booming domestic tourism is saving the day, the season, the entire year – in natural and rural regions at least. And I cannot help but wonder: How prepared are we?

Although economically favorable, the situation developing in some rural destinations has been overwhelming – environmentally and socially. New tourism trends have evolved on both the demand and the supply side. Instead of foreign coastal resorts, Serbian beach-lovers are enjoying their own country’s beauty, filling domestic beds and cash registers, but without stopping to adapt their behavior to the domestic context. That’s causing environmental problems, occasional disruption in service provision, and discontent of loyal domestic tourists.

Divčibare Mountain, Western Serbia. Photo: Ivana Damnjanović

The Shiny Side of the Coin

Supply chains have certainly been ready: Accommodation and gastronomy providers, local farmers, grocery and souvenir shops, entertainment and adventure organizers and many more in this intricate network have been eager to jump on the wagon once the domestic restrictions eased. Throughout Serbia, bookings are already made until mid-November, and business owners are happy beyond expectations.

In the strange framework of 2020, tourism has once again showed its beneficial nature. Due to the increased demand, business owners tell me that the season will last longer than usual. In certain rural communities, stakeholders in accommodation and food supply will profit significantly more than previous years. International-travel budgets saved for typical seaside trips in Montenegro, Greece, or Turkey are instead being spent in country. What’s more, these tourists have been prepared to pay more than usual – sometimes double or triple.

Normally outbound Serbian tourists finally have the opportunity to visit all the locations depicted for years on social media by local travel enthusiasts: breathtaking, well-preserved nature, and diverse culture, traditions, and history – Tara National Park, Golubac Fortress on the Danube River, Sokobanja Spa, World Heritage-listed Studenica Monastery, just to name a few from an array of travel opportunities. Many Serbians now recognize that the experiences Serbia provides are comparable to destinations abroad and may even plan their next trip within the country.

Golubac fortress, on the Danube. Photo: Luka Šarac, NTO Serbia archive

The Flip Side

“What about sustainability?” The professor in me pushes the topic with managers of a local hotel and with owners of short-term rentals, some of them my former students. “Wait until we survive the season,” they readily reply, reflecting its economic aspect. I hide my next thought behind the sip of locally produced raspberry juice: Sustainability cannot wait, it either is or isn’t. However, I understand the motive behind their answer. I know they genuinely care about the environment and society of the destinations they operate in, but are still driven by the old normal. Focus on attracting and satisfying demand. Meet standards based on arrivals and revenue.

This coin has its detrimental side. With the exception of certain protected areas, most destinations have been caught off-guard regarding the negative environmental impacts such as littering or overvisitation of fragile ecosystems resulting from the sheer volume of tourists. Those places might be years and budgets away from recovery. Some local communities traded off their secluded, rural lifestyles with their specific customs and traditions for the sudden temporary opportunity to profit, their health included: Tourists brought the virus even to the most remote corners of the country.

Habitual Beachgoers Discover Authentic Countryside Is Not a Resort

My observation and conversations lead me conclude that we are witnesses of emerging tourist segmentation. The larger group is composed of tourists who would typically spend their summer holidays in regional coastal resorts. These coast-lovers are tolerant of crowds, but being compelled to travel within the country resonates with a whiff of resentment. This feeling often manifests itself through unrealistic demands for service providers – a desire for higher service quality and lower prices, even when the value for money spent is fair. Serbia’s diverse inland destinations – mountains, lakes and rivers, thermal springs, villages and towns, historical, archeological and religious sites – call for a more observant type of behavior than that expected at typical coastal resorts. Thus, they may have to withstand overly demanding, sometimes disrespectful tourists, unmindful that a real community is not like staff employed at a resort and expectant that somehow designated people will clean up after them.

The second segment is represented by tourists loyal to domestic destinations or businesses. Their resentment comes from unreciprocated loyalty. The high demand this past summer led to increased prices, all too often not waived even for loyal guests from past years.

Traditional food preparation. Photo: NIRA PRO, NTO Serbia archive.

Those traditional local enthusiasts, who normally travel to enjoy the peace and quiet of countryside locations, are intolerant of the crowds and related behavior, so they often opted to stay home. Others felt it not safe enough to travel, or found increased prices unaffordable.

Lessons Learnt

On my way home I am under the strong impression that these new faces of tourism cannot be overlooked if we are to embark on the new path of a sustainable and regenerative future of tourism. Every country’s experience might help us all understand tourism better through lessons learnt. Those currently on my mind are:

• Tourism needs to find ways to become resilient towards sudden, extreme change in tourism numbers;

• Destination and business management has to rely strongly on sustainability principles with a regenerative approach and promote them throughout the entire network of stakeholders;

• Don’t assume. Closely monitor how tourists and tourism stakeholders change their needs and behavior patterns with changing circumstances – in Serbia’s case, resort-style tourists being compelled to travel domestically and inexperienced local newcomers being brought into the tourism sector (e.g. farmers and property owners);

• While continually monitoring their normal tourism profile, destinations and businesses should keep a constant eye on all tourism segments, since in a heartbeat they can become theirs, invited or not;

• Tourism destinations and businesses should not try to be “all things to all people” but rather be explicit about communicating the specific type of behavior that the welcoming destination is ready to accept.

As an afterthought, what if this season’s unexpected boom in resort-style tourists doesn’t repeat next year? Is it a good or bad thing? The country’s entire tourism industry will need to take time to decide on the answer and then act upon it while there is still time.

After Covid, 10 Ways for Destinations To Manage Tourism Better

? Destination Stewardship Report – Autumn 2020 ?

For destinations, a return to business as it was before Covid-19 will be difficult and often not advisable, yet most destinations seem to be trying to do just that. Florian Kaefer, editor of The Place Brand Observer, presents a new, free, multi-expert white paper offering 10 better ideas. If your community, government, association, or DMO is seeking to do a tourism reset, here’s how to get started.

A White Paper for a More Robust Recovery

At The Place Brand Observer, (in partnership with the Sustainability Leaders Project) we have published a white paper to help you future-proof your destination – city or region. We asked leading consultants, managers and researchers to share their suggestions on how to resume tourism after the pandemic, taking into consideration the challenges and pitfalls that destination managers and marketers will face. The result is our paper, ‘How Can Destinations Resume Tourism After the Pandemic, While Ensuring Sustainability?’

After several months of lockdown, uncertainties, political pressure, economic and social losses – but also inspiring stories of nature renaissance, solidarity and awareness, we have (hopefully) learnt a valuable lesson or two, as human beings.

The travel industry is among the most affected by the pandemic. At the same time, the visitor economy is an essential ingredient for the economic recovery of many destinations. That means much pressure on destination managers and marketers to resume tourist flows as soon as possible, and to get back to business just as it was before Covid-19. However, the expectations and needs of customers and communities may have changed post-pandemic, together with external market conditions and bigger picture concerns such as tourism sustainability and the climate emergency.

‘Never waste a good crisis’ – and indeed, destination managers and developers have an unprecedented opportunity right now to rethink tourism and to come up with ways to make it more sustainable and resilient in the face of future crises. Our white paper presents ten approaches for doing that.

Some of them are strategic, such as elevating sense of place and thinking of the visitor as a temporary citizen. Others are tactical acts such as linking tax incentives and public rescue funds to business sustainability. These all need evaluation by new measures of effectiveness – community ambition, investment, and student attraction among others.

There is always a lot of pressure on destination marketers. Their success and failure are nearly always determined by numbers. If that continues to be the most important aspect of the job of a destination marketer, there’s no chance for sustainability’.         —Todd Babiak, CEO, Brand Tasmania

In a nutshell, destination branding and tourism marketing must be serious about the challenges places will face in opening up again. We need to be accurate, measured, realistic and honest in our assessments of what is safe to do and to offer. And we need to communicate these requirements proactively.

This is the moment where success will depend on courage, and the power of imagination of a ‘different’ destination —one with greater local participation, and a smaller ecological footprint. Have a clear idea of the ‘why’. What do you (your community) want from the visitor economy? Answer this question as detailed as possible — looking beyond outworn (and often untested) assumptions of job creation and income for the host community.

The first step to lasting recovery is to figure out what a community really needs and wants (and what it does not want), from the visitor economy. Once the ‘why’ is clear, you’ll find the ‘how’ and ‘what’ much easier to write down and implement.

With thanks to our expert panel at The Place Brand Observer and the Sustainability Leaders Project for sharing their thoughts, we invite you to download the free white paper here. I hope you find it useful and inspiring! If you have feedback or questions, contact me by email at For more about the panel and expert advice on other ‘hot’ topics linked to destination branding and sustainability, visit

Florian Kaefer, PhD is the founder and editor of The Place Brand Observer and the Sustainability Leaders Project. Based in Switzerland, he has been an observer of destination branding practice and tourism sustainability for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.