There is much speculation about the possible effects of the Covid pandemic on future tourism behaviour. Will more people decide to avoid travel risks and save the planet by staying closer to home? Or will they, as one academic study has speculated, be engaging in more ‘vaxications’ or taking their ‘Greatest of All Trips’ (GOAT)?
Have you got your GOAT yet?
One certainty is that the pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions did much to boost domestic travel and to ensure that people stayed closer to home. Many DMOs launched campaigns to boost domestic travel, and a number of cities encouraged people to become “tourists in their own city.” As we suggested some years before the pandemic, being a tourist in your own backyard means not just changing your travel habits, but also changing the way that you look at and experience places. This is an idea that has been picked up by Destination Marketing Organisations around the world – firstly out of necessity, but increasingly because they realise that the have potential local audiences as well.
For example, in Scotland, Edinburgh and the Lothians has been tell
ing residents to “Explore local and be a tourist in your own city”. This brings advantages in terms of avoiding crowds and supporting local businesses, but it also introduces locals to the idea that the highlights of their city are not just for tourists. National Geographic Magazine published a number of tips for becoming a tourist in your own city. These include: “Make a date with your city”:
There are places I pass on a regular basis in Toronto. Each time, I make a silent vow that “one day” I’ll check them out. I’m sure several such places in your own area are popping to mind as you read this.
You should also “Act like a tourist”:
Channel your inner traveler by popping over to the “new arrivals” booth at the local train station or chatting up the woman at the information counter at city hall. Peruse the newspaper with an eye out for activities that will take you out of your comfort zone rut and seek out local bloggers for insight into what’s new—and worth experiencing for yourself.
This underlines the fact that being a ‘tourist in your own city’ is more about a style of moving around and experiencing the city than actually having to be a tourist. DMOs are now getting into the idea of promoting ‘hyperlocal travel’. In Canada the Culinary Tourism Alliance (CTA) launched The Great Taste of Ontario programme to promote hyperlocal travel and help Ontario’s culinary tourism-and-hospitality sectors bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recent research conducted by the region of Flanders in Belgium also provides some interesting pointers to the potential development of ‘local tourism’. During 2020 Toerisme Vlaanderen began to ask residents about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on their travel behaviour. This indicated that up to 60% of the respondents agreed that they had discovered and appreciated more of their own area thanks to the lockdown. Around 30% also said they had made more trips in their own region during the pandemic. The indications were that this behaviour would be continued in future. Just over half of the respondents said they would be more likely to travel in their own region after the pandemic.
Further research in 2021 in the cities of Antwerp, Brugge, Gent, Leuven and Mechelen indicated that around 30% of residents were still acting like “tourists in their own city”. In addition, 31% said that they would be likely to continue making visits in their own city after the pandemic. Only 18% of respondents indicated that they would not become ‘tourists in their own city’ in future.
This research seems to indicate that while the pandemic may have made tourism harder for many, it has also encouraged people to explore their own regions more. This would contribute to a reduction in long distance travel and therefore to an increase in the sustainability of tourism. As restrictions continue to ease, however, how long will people be able to resist taking a vaxication or going for their GOAT?