CGTN Interview: Post COVID-19, tourism could be 'slow' but 'smart'
Updated 17:15, 13-May-2020
Abhishek G Bhaya

Tourism, which is among the worst-hit sectors amid the COVID-19 crisis, is expected to witness a radical shift with a new wave of "slow" and "smart" tourism taking centerstage and an increased momentum for health and wellness, according to a new study.

The paper, authored by a team of Chinese researchers from Australian and Malaysian universities and a Turkish tourism professor, predicts that the global pandemic could have a long-lasting impact on the consumption pattern of Chinese travelers leading to growing popularity of free and independent travel, luxury trips, and health and wellness tourism.

"The Chinese community is the most affected community by this virus. With China being the top tourist-generating country as well as among the top tourism destination, we tried to understand what impact COVID-19 may have on the Chinese community as well as in Chinese and global tourism industry in the near future," one of the co-authors of the paper, Metin Kozak, a professor at the Turkey's Dokuz Aylul University, told CGTN Digital in a Skype interview.

Noting that Chinese tourists have traditionally preferred travelling in groups, Kozak said that this may likely alter as a result of the new lifestyle changes being brought about due to the contagion. "When Chinese tourists are abroad, they like to interact with each other and speak with each other and therefore they travel together. But COVID-19 calls for social distancing, which may have an impact on this," he said.

Elaborating on the topic, Dr. Wen Jun, another co-author of the paper titled "COVID-19: Potential effects on Chinese citizens' lifestyle and travel," pointed out that there's already a shift in this trend among younger Chinese tourists.

"They prefer travelling independently with maximum freedom. Compared to group tours, which are more traditional, free and independent travel gives tourists the chance to design itineraries based on what they want. So, tourists have opportunities to really explore different cultures by interacting with the locals," Wen, a lecturer at Australia's Edith Cowan University, told CGTN Digital.

Wen however suggested that group tours won't end completely but will continue with additional measures in place. "Because COVID-19 is spread through person-to-person contact, I would expect relevant policies and regulations to be enacted to promote safety during group tours. Group dining and group activities can't be avoided during this kind of travel."

Boost to domestic and luxury tourism


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Kozak estimated the global tourism industry to expect a loss of nearly 22 billion U.S. dollars this year due to the drop in the number of outbound Chinese tourists while also predicting a boost to China's domestic tourism as situation within the country improves.

"China is a very big country, so it has an advantage in improving the domestic tourism," he said, adding that the trend may continue in other parts of the world too. After the uncertainties over COVID-19 subside globally, "There will be a chance to improve domestic tourism in many other countries including in Europe and in Turkey."

Concurring with Kozak, Wen felt that Chinese tourists will probably be cautious when going overseas, especially to places that have been severely affected by the virus. "But they can definitely enjoy independent luxury trips. It also wouldn't be surprising for them to favor locations that have high-class medical facilities. This way, they can feel confident about dealing with an emergency if need be," he said.

"Recent news have shown that Chinese citizens are starting to travel close to home (like in their own cities and towns) after having self-isolated for a long time. Personally, I think China's domestic tourism market will recover quickly once COVID-19 is controlled," he added.

Inbound tourism to China, however, could be a different story. "China is a popular tourism destination, and its image has been somewhat marred by COVID-19 due to the misleading international media campaign. The virus has also been closely tied to China, at least in the media. It may take some time for the country to bounce back from that. So China's inbound tourism market will probably need more time to recover from the fear and panic surrounding COVID-19," Wen explained.

Slow and smart tourism

Tourists will be unwilling to participate in mass tourism in the post-COVID-19 era. /Xinhua

Tourists will be unwilling to participate in mass tourism in the post-COVID-19 era. /Xinhua

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In the global context, the paper noted that tourists traveling the post-COVID-19 era will be unwilling to participate in mass tourism and instead prefer more deliberate trips with an emphasis on extended experiences and holiday which is broadly described as "slow tourism."

"Slow tourism focuses on local populations, longer lengths of stay, and more fulfilling tourist experiences. Tourists can thus prioritize travel quality over quantity," Kozak explained.

"The Chinese often think of travel as a learning opportunity, especially for children. They view travel differently, in that it's not just a typical 'holiday'. Slow tourism is a rather new concept for Chinese tourists. The younger generations are more likely to think about staying in a destination for a long time – for weeks or even months – which lets them explore local culture by taking part in authentic experiences," Wen elaborated.

Citing how "smart tourism" could enhance the travel experience, the study noted that visitation data, such as tourists' time spent at attractions, will facilitate crowd management – an essential factor in a post-COVID-19 world.

"In the beginning, smart tourism can focus on controlling human traffic to major tourist sites like a museum, a cathedral or a public park to maintain the quality of visitors' experience. Smart tourism will certainly be helpful in maintaining social distancing," said Kozak.

"In fact, slow tourism and smart tourism can be kind of brothers to each other," he quipped highlighting that both forms could be complementary.

Focus on health and wellness

Health and wellness will be other areas that will gain increasing priority within the global tourism sector. With the heightened awareness of health and wellness and also the requirement for social distancing, the demand for more hygiene and sanitation in tourist destinations will grow.

"Health and wellness tourism is already a trend in certain destinations, particularly in the Asia Pacific countries. We have witnessed this sector grow in India, Middle East, China and Thailand in recent years. COVID-19 will certainly prove positive for this sector," Kozak said.

"Moreover, most tourist destinations and facilities will need to improve their hygiene and sanitation standards. We expect more academic papers investigating how hotels, restaurants and tour operators are upgrading their hygiene and sanitation facilities in the future," he added.

Interviewer and script writer: Abhishek G Bhaya

Video editors: Ge Ning and Wang Zengzheng

Graphic byLi Jingjie

Director: Mei Yan