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Tourism's Period of Uncertainty

Issue # 10 (1092 words/4 Minutes)

Tourism's Period of Uncertainty

DMOs, cannot shape tourism in their destination the way they used to.

But that does not mean CEOs do not have the tools for the road ahead.

The post-recession time of 2010 through 2019 was one of the most stable and prosperous times for the tourism and hospitality industry. DMOs focus was primarily on promoting their destination without much else to worry about. But since that time, the industry has experienced significant upheaval driven by forces of change, including climate change, Overtourism, the COVID pandemic, and most recently, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. These forces have all changed the operating dynamics of the industry so that DMOs cannot as easily shape tourism policy in their destinations as they might have in the past. These forces of change have created a lot of uncertainty within the industry.

National and global events are shaping tourism at the local level in a way the industry has never experienced. The impact is significant; one wonders if municipal destinations will return to the vibrant places, they were to rural destinations experiencing visitation levels that stress and, in many ways, go beyond their infrastructure capabilities. DMOs did not have to use to worry about these things. Nor did they have to concern themselves with workforce housing, industry labor shortages or industry pay and benefits. But here we are.

The impact of these forces of change is being seen at an alarming rate. Airlines are restructuring their routes and their fleets in a very different way than ever before. Suddenly, the outdoor destinations have air service they could have only dreamed of before. Workers are choosing to work at home impacting many downtowns. Lack of business and international travel are creating havoc for destinations that relied heavily on these segments. Automation and reservation systems are starting to creep in at every point in the vacation. Think about it one day (in the not-too-distant future); you will drive up to a destination in a predetermined GPS parking spot. If you are skiing or going to an attraction, you will not need to pay for admissions at the ticket window because you will have already reserved your ticket, and it is on your phone. The same thing for your hotel check-in, there is no check-in, and you go to your room with your room key in your phone. Want to go for a hike? You will have already paid for that hike when you made a reservation for a parking spot at the trailhead. Finally, you may or may not eat at a restaurant when you are hungry afterward. You may order online and pick up your food or have a delivery service drop it off. The pricing you pay will be adjusted to the time and day you use it.

It is a different world; get used to it. To top it off, we now have the geopolitical impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While it may not impact us directly, it creates a pause, a reflective moment of the direction of world events, which causes consumers to change their perceptions, outlook, and behaviors in ways we might not see just yet.

All these changes are up in the air, and all are fluid, and dealing with them is a challenge for the industry and DMOs. The reality is the industry is being redefined right before our very eyes, and nobody has the answers to these challenges. There is no template, no top-down strategic plan to get through this level of change.