Should tourism return to normal?
Ah, the good old days of tourism! The fondness one had for 2019 and the previous decade when tourism experienced some of the most significant travel spending increases.
Who wouldn’t long for a return to pre-COVID? After all, the tourism industry revenues grew with hotels sprouting and new restaurant concepts at every turn. Consumers were absorbing price increases without much complaint. Municipalities were enjoying strong transient occupancy and sales tax growth. What a time it was indeed. If only this virus could be tamed, and things could return to what was once expected.
While many in the industry would love to see a return to that time, a more profound and more fundamental question needs to be considered. Should tourism in California return to normal? The COVID-19 crisis has given not just DMO’s but municipalities and residents a needed pause to consider that question and, if needed, consider a different future.
After a near-decade of incredible growth, the industry is facing a very uncertain future. Even before COVID changed the landscape, the tourism industry (especially in California) struggled to grapple with significant systematic marketplace changes. The mass tourism model developed over years of careful marketing. It had come to be defined by continued growth in visitor volume and increases in travel spending had been reaching a point where destinations had begun to ask if tourism was sustainable. While many long for some normalcy level, it begs the question, should tourism return to normal or perhaps COVID-19 has provided a moment to rethink the future?