I have been avoiding writing about this topic explicitly, but it would be insincere to not address the pandemic in the room. I believe that as a travel writer that I have a responsibility to share not only the best travel tips and destinations but to inform my readers about current policies, trends, or world events that influence travel.
Let me be very clear, I am not advocating for international travel at this time. If anything I am advocating for the exact opposite.
It is best practice to receive your information about the current travel policies of your locale via official sources. If where you live is not allowing any non-essential movement then do please respect these restrictions. Also, be mindful to comply with keeping distance between non-household members and wearing the necessary protective equipment.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Tourism Industry
It is no secret that the travel industry has been hit, and hit hard. I have seen friends and colleagues lose their businesses overnight. Many of my projects scheduled for this year are indefinitely postponed, and I lost my office space in the center of Ljubljana.
It isn’t just the small businesses that are suffering. Some of the biggest names in travel have been hit, too. Lonely Planet closed offices in Melbourne and London, Flybe went bankrupt in March, TripAdvisor laid off 25% of workers last week, and Airbnb laid off 25% of staff just this week and
According to the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization), 100% of destinations now have restrictions in place. Whether you realize it or not, that is significant. Tourism accounts for 10% of the global GDP. In the US, tourism generates $2.6 trillion in economic output and supports 15.8 million jobs. When faced with unemployment numbers over 30 million, you can’t help but assume half of those jobs also support tourism.
The UNWTO estimates that global international tourists’ arrivals will decrease 20-30% in 2020 for a potential loss of $30-50 billion (USD). It is estimated that over 75 million jobs in tourism are at risk, the highest risk being in Asia. The numbers are not comforting. Jobs continue to be lost, travel remains to be suspended, and trips left untraveled.
Forecasting the Future of Travel
With grim data being broadcasted every day there are spaces where some of us are having discussions about the future of travel. There are discussions about what travel will look like in the immediate future through to a post-COVID-19 world.
Some experts are claiming that at the beginning people will choose road trips over plane travel. I can tell you that I have no plans to jump on a plane or train at the moment. When we begin to use these modes of transportation again there will be a shift to using disinfectants, limiting the number of passengers, or even be required to wear a mask.
Active and adventure-style travel will probably play a major role in the coming months as most activities are outside in nature. But on the other hand, doing activities like canyoning or wall climbing or anything that requires shared or rented equipment will need protocols for disinfecting and minimizing the risk of spreading diseases.
There are also discussions about intentional and sustainable travel. It makes sense because these conversations had already begun prior, but you see a global shift and desire for more immersive and meaningful experiences. People want their money to go to the right place and their time to be spent well.
In the meantime, some of us in the industry are attempting to adapt. You might have noticed a few hashtags popping up across social media such as #TravelTomorrow or #ThankstoTravel. As tourism boards are encouraging travelers “Don’t cancel, postpone!” or “Visit Later” in an attempt to encourage those travelers to keep their planned trips, just postponed to a safer date. I think this is a great option if you have the possibility. Some airlines and hotels are accommodating the situation, while others have not.
Travel bloggers are attempting to salvage their views shifting content from itineraries to virtual tourism. Some companies are offering virtual degustations or even at-home virtual travel experiences.
The truth? We have no idea what will happen.
Before this pandemic, the travel industry was concerned with over-tourism. The industry was ready for a shift and it needed it. Travel was quickly becoming very unsustainable as dirt-cheap flights could transport you across Europe for a few days. Cities like Venice and Barcelona were becoming unlivable for locals. In Slovenia, some days locals in Bled were asked not to drive because there were too many tourists.
We know that travel is forever changed.
Now we are presented with a moment to do things better.
Is Local Tourism the Answer?
That depends on who you ask. Some countries completely rely on foreign visitors to sustain their livelihoods. In the Maldives, tourism accounts for 28% of their GDP, in Slovenia, it is around 10%, but in the US it is only around 2.4%. That is a huge difference between countries.
If we might not be able to travel internationally until 2021 or later then what is the solution?
Travel local. Support local tourism so that they will be there when the flights take off again. These are the people who will (for some) represent your home and culture. Supporting local travel – wherever you go – is sustainable travel. If you are passionate about locations abroad check to see if you can buy any products, food, or gift vouchers to continue to support those businesses.
So maybe I should be shouting “Support Local!” rather than “Travel Local!” but I feel like travel gets left out of the former’s rhetoric. It is hard to imagine local travel but I want to reiterate that I am referring to either traveling locally or supporting local businesses while you travel.
Supporting local businesses helps with something called leakage. This refers to the revenue that is lost once it goes to a foreign-owned business. This can be a hotel, restaurant, or even a tour company. If the company is foreign-based that directly influences where the revenue and taxes of that company go.
In some places, this is a very serious issue that is negatively affecting local populations who are being used to support these businesses. I have good news though! There is something amazing that happens when you decide to support local businesses.
The Local Multiplier Effect
There is this concept in economics called the local multiplier effect. It refers to the additional economic benefits when money is spent locally. It has been documented that a higher percentage of that money will be recirculated in the community. This can be directly through hiring local employees or purchasing local equipment or indirectly if that money is spent at another local business. The third way that the money is recirculated is via employees when they spend their money locally.
A study compared chain stores versus independent ones and the results were shocking. A chain store will recirculate, on average, only 13.6% of revenue while the independent locally-owned stores average 48%.
Independent retailers are returning three times as much to the community compared to chain stores.
Aside from more money circulating locally, other studies show that local businesses contribute to greater income growth, more jobs, fewer inequalities, and less strain on public subsidies that large corporations often benefit from.
And it is not just an economic return that should be the goal of supporting local. A very important benefit is the deep connection that a locally-owned business will have with the local community. Research shows that a business can influence the well being of a community, contribute to the social capital, and increase population health (Blanchard et al 2011).
There is evidence that the local population is more likely to be civically involved and vote when their community is predominantly locally-owned small businesses.
Supporting locally-owned businesses improves the entire community’s wellbeing. If you take a look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for tourism you will notice that supporting local improves almost every goal on the list.
Tourism is a powerful tool for bringing people out of poverty and environmental conservation. Across the world, it is documented that tourism is bringing jobs, especially to rural areas, minorities, and women. It raises awareness for environmental and animal issues and fosters tolerance and understanding between different cultures.
How to Be a Tourist at Home
Being a tourist at home does not have to be dull or boring. I guarantee for most people there is at least one if not more activities that you never experienced in your area.
Last fall I visited my hometown and since I haven’t lived there in well over 10 years I didn’t exactly know a lot of people. Left to entertain myself, I went to Google and literally typed “things to do in Scranton” and “sightseeing in Scranton” just like when I visit a new place. I sat there in my hotel room in shock as I never did any of these things.
The next day I set off to Scranton to visit the Electric Trolly Museum and the Steamtown Historical Site. I even rode on an original electric trolly from 93 years ago on a route that ceased operation in 1954.
I had a great time there and learned about myself, my culture, and my ancestors. I was sharing my experiences via Instagram stories and was shocked at the number of people in the area who never even knew the museum was there!
Here is my call to action. Once it is safe to do so, plan one local outing being a tourist in your town. Just try it once. If you don’t know where to start about how to find local things to do or see, message me and I will personally give you a few ideas or direct you to someone who can.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Try a local restaurant that makes traditional food
- Try a local restaurant that makes a cuisine you never tried
- Visit a different cafe than your usual
- Browse local hashtags and location tags on Instagram
- Follow travel bloggers focusing on your town, region, or country
- Volunteer with a local organization
- Take a local walking tour
- Take a tour through a local food producer
- Visit a local museum
- Visit a local artisan (glass blowing, lacemaking, ceramics)
- Visit your local historical society
- Plan a themed road trip (see local highlights, find the best donut, only places starting with S, etc)
- Buy a travel guide to your region/state/country and do activities from it
- Spend a weekend in a local hotel (romantic, girls weekend, etc)
Satisfy your wanderlust by exploring your region. You might be surprised at what you find. Shifting your mindset to recognize the importance and value of supporting local at home and abroad will help support a more sustainable world for everyone.
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Thank you for reading!
Thank you as always for taking a moment to read Wandering Helene. Traveling and supporting local is a topic I am very passionate about and a philosophy that guides my adventures. I would love to hear your thought on the topic below and do please feel free to reach out if you need any advice to get started. -Helene
These are sources that were not able to be linked above but were read in preparation for this article.
Blanchard, Troy C., Charles Tolbert, and Carson Mencken, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society. (2011).
Blanchard, Troy C., and Todd L. Matthews. The Configuration of Local Economic Power and Civic Participation in the Global Economy. Social Forces. (2006).
Blanchard, Troy C., Charles Tolbert, and Carson Mencken. The health and wealth of US counties: how the small business environment impacts alternative measures of development. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society. (2012).
Patel, Maine Amar and Garret Martin. Going Local Quantifying the Economic Impacts of Buying from Locally Owned Businesses in Portland, Maine. Maine Center for Economic Policy. (2011).