Over the last few decades, tourism has grown faster than the world economy and represented, until March of this year, one tenth of the employment and wealth generation on the planet.
This growth, however, was not without collateral damage and for years we have heard of topics such as over-tourism, the growing hostility of local populations towards tourists in certain popular cities. There are also the devastating effects that are often triggered in social networks: a photo or video gone viral attracts hundreds of thousands of travelers to a place not prepared for such an influx of people. There is also the potential let down of a highly manipulated image.
As the confinement rules have begun to be eased, a movement calling for a renewed effort to refocus on sustainable tourism has become stronger. More and more people are looking for ways to reduce the negative side-effects of mass tourism.
In this context, a group of tourism professionals has organized A World for Travel, an event that will take place in Evora, a town located 100 km away from Lisbon. Its organizers hope that the Evora Forum may emulate the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“I believe the Evora Forum will be a huge success,” said Rita Marques, Portugal’s secretary of state for tourism. “I believe it will be a unique opportunity to invite all the global tourism leaders to discuss the tourism of tomorrow.”
The Forum will take place on November 5-6 with delegate places limited to 500. It will feature key main stage plenary sessions and a series of group sessions dedicated to specific topics. Marques is hopeful that Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the EU internal market, will accept an invitation to hold a summit of European tourism ministers at the Forum.
Why Portugal? The country is currently the third favorite location among European travelers. It was also the first to create Clean & Safe, a health safety stamp for its tourism industry implemented since last April.
“It will be the right time to prepare ourselves for the challenges that are coming in terms of social, environmental and economic sustainability. And also for the digital and circular economies,” said Marques. “Our global world will have new standards and we need to prepare our industry for this new era.”
It may be seen as a daunting challenge because it involves a reformulation of existing models. And this implies costs. There is also the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century: global warming and the environmental disruption it is causing. Climates, landscapes, coasts, natural areas and biodiversity are being changed at such a speed that our planet cannot cope.
1. Reinventing tourism
Some things are changing. The French government conditioned the financial rescue of Air France to the abandonment of the internal routes that the train can supply with equal (if not greater) efficiency of time. This year, vacations in nearby places are preferred. The mountains and the countryside are far ahead of the beaches. In Spain, for example, professionals in Catalonia are noticing an unprecedented interest in the interior of the region.
Christian Delom, Secretary-General of the Evora Forum, says that the Tunisian Minister of Tourism wants to participate in the forum because he intends to totally transform the island of Yerba. “We are comforted by the thought that something is really changing and our ideas are on the right track”.
2. Change of paradigm
The organizers wish that at the end of the forum there will be concrete actions so as not to remain in the field of debate and ideas. The agenda of two days of exchanges will be divided into 20 committees, each with commitments applicable immediately. During the final meeting, five of these commitments will be chosen, which the organizers will follow throughout 2021.
Delom maintains that tourism has reached such a point that in many countries people get on a plane to take advantage of a discount weekend in another country, and upload their photos to social networks to show how “simple” it can be.
“We have reached an unsustainable model,” said Delom. “The most visited destinations attracted even more people, whether it was Venice, Thailand, Barcelona, Amsterdam. We arrived at an artificial situation in which no one consumed locally, and the codes of the tourists supplanted the locals”.
One of the things that the pandemic has forced us to confront is the exaggerations that we, and society as a whole, had chosen to sidestep in the past.
A World For Travel Evora Forum is being supported by the European Travel Commission, The Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council and Visit Portugal.