Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on tourism
An ADRION Policy Paper offers new insights and recommendations to a strongly hit sector
Tourism has been one of the hardest-hit industries by COVID-19. In Europe, the Adriatic and Ionian macro-region is one of the mostly affected areas due to the strong seasonality of tourism services and its dependency on a large share of international demand.
A Policy Paper produced by the ADRION Sub-cluster “Innovation Through New Methodological Approaches and Models and ADRION Branding” provides a strategy for the promotion of cultural and sustainable tourism for the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region. The document involved 77 partners from 8 ADRION projects coordinated by THEMATIC. The Policy Paper “Sustainable development of the tourism sector in the ADRION macro region. A strategic proposal for the programming period 2021-2027” identifies common challenges and presents a roadmap to boost cultural tourism in the region, following COVID 19 pandemic.
Tourism is one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting economies, livelihoods, public services and opportunities on all continents. While sustaining the livelihoods dependent on the sector must be a priority, rebuilding tourism is also an opportunity for transformation with a focus on leveraging its impact on destinations visited and building more resilient communities and businesses through innovation, digitalization, sustainability, and partnerships.
A collective work by ADRION funded projects
This Policy Paper comes as a collective work carried out by the projects joining the ADRION Sub-cluster, such as SUSTOURISMO, WONDER, PRONACUL, ADRILINK, TRANSFER, ADRINETBOOK, THEMATIC and SMART Heritage, with the ambition to bring in data, experiences, knowledge, and expectations of a large number of stakeholders within the tourism sector. The whole paper is based on the findings collected thanks to an online stakeholder questionnaire conducted in November–December 2021. The analysis is based on the feed-backs of 69 organizations from the Adriatic-Ionian region, mostly based in Croatia (20%), Italy (20%), Serbia (16%) and Greece (around 15%).
Covid-19 pandemic produced a shift to rural tourism destinations
The collected data received through the survey may serve as a key source of information to better understand the current state of play of the tourism sector after the heavy losses imposed by the pandemic. For instance, based on the findings, the most significant negative impacts were reported to be the closure of businesses operating in cultural tourism and related sectors (e.g. hotels, restaurants, etc), closure of cultural sites due to the structural inadequacy to the new risks (e.g. museums, cultural centers, etc.), cancellation of large international and local events (European Capital of Culture, International fairs, etc.) and international and domestic travel restrictions. Apparently the whole sector suffered a setback, as people suddenly stopped visiting big and crowded cities and traveling for business trips to attend large conferences. However, a different lifestyle started taking over with a relatively positive impact on specific tourism sectors. According to the survey, the last two years marked a shift to rural destinations and closer to one’s place of departure, with a sudden direct effect on local, regional and national tourism. Moreover, walking and cycling for traveling increased significantly and leisure time spent outdoor got much more popular.
Bike excursion on country road in Val d’Orcia with electric Mountain bike – Tuscany, Italy
Credits: Daniele Mazierli
COVID-19 shed a light on healthy&safety issues as well as digitisation on tourist facilities
Surely, the pandemic forced all tourism operators, as well as people working in the accommodation facilities and visiting sites to drive innovation forward through the digitalization of services, promoting innovation and new technologies. According to that, Biagio Perretti, the coordinator of the Thematic project and Professor at the University of Basilicata, helped us comment the joint work produced by the sub-cluster: “As identified in the Policy Paper, one of the key needs for sustainable tourism is digitalization of services (e.g. bookings and reservations in the accommodation facilities), that can ease the process of creating standards in terms of touristic services. Perretti gives an example from his experience in Preko, a village in the Croatian island of Ugljan (one of the partners in the ADRION project of Thematic), which is home to one of the oldest olive mills in Europe dating back to the Roman era, but a quite remote place with limited access facilities for tourists. “If we do not integrate this piece of art into a network of itineraries, as well as we provide easier access and information to the visitors, well then this artistic patrimony cannot be promoted as it deserves. In this sense, digitalisation can help a lot find out solutions to more integrated services”, says Perretti.
Olive mill in Preko/Croatia
Photo by ADRION THEMATIC project
On the other hand, when it comes to health and safety measures, the Professor states, “Due to COVID-19, we are experiencing an extreme variability and heterogeneity of health safety measures”. As an example, Greece followed a different policy towards the entry of travelers compared to other countries that were stricter. Greece decided not to require the visitors from certain countries to self-isolate themselves for up to two weeks. Instead, it was an early adopter of more accurate and widespread testing protocols. Additionally, the health and tourism ministries collaborated to launch the ‘Blue Freedom’ plan in May 2021 giving priority to residents and seasonal tourism workers on islands where people rely on the tourism and travel sector. A similar approach was taken in Italy, particularly in the Campania region to reach full vaccination of the people on islands of Capri, Ischia, Procida. “The challenge related to health&safety issues is to find out common standards, so that a French or English tourist can travel to Croatia, Italy or Greece without fussing over too many different rules. This is one of the issues that should be part of the key actions for the next programming period, such as putting together stakeholders to set up standards on health safety as well as promoting some good practices to be exported in other countries”, continues Mr. Perretti.
Vouchers and state-aid mesaures proved to be effective in the short term
According to the policy paper, the more effective measures taken in the ADRION region to regain ground, are the promotion of cultural attractions to domestic visitors, tourist vouchers such as state vouchers which can be used for accommodation (in 2020) and later for restaurants and events etc. (in 2021). One other finding that is considered as somehow effective was the promotion of alternative transportation to support the limitations of private cars and create more space in cities (new and better walking and cycling paths for better connectivity). For instance, Greece implemented more walking and cycling paths contributing to a shift to more sustainable and active transportation and the well-being of residents. In particular, the most effective measures activated to restore a sustainable development pattern are the promotion of sustainable mobility (cycling, walking, micromobility, shared mobility) and wide public transport coverage; the digitalisation of cultural and related offerings, and the structural improvement of open and indoor spaces (restaurant rooms, health services, etc).
Biagio Perretti, highlights the main issues to exploit the full potential of the region, especially following the results of the survey: “We had to think again about what sustainability means nowadays and in the future. One key point here is the necessity to shift from mainstream touristic itineraries basically centered on well-known attractions and places to minor destinations”. Moreover, talking about the new opportunities provided by the sharing economy in the tourism sector, Perretti stresses the strength points of those non-traditional ways of hospitality, “The new forms of accommodation were able to recover faster from the outbreak of the pandemic and were proved to be even useful for the restart of cultural and natural tourism, as they offered a buffer in periods when hotels were forced to close down due to very high staff costs.”
Biagio Perretti, a professor at the University of Basilicata as well as coordinator of the THEMATIC project
The key needs of tourism in the Adriatic-Ionian region
The Policy Paper concludes by providing indicative actions to recover and restart sustainable tourism in the region, in a way that it can better contribute to local growth. Here below, the list of identified key needs:
- Skill development/capacity building
- Entrepreneurship and innovation
- Diversification and customization
- Safety and security
- Sustainable mobility
- Protection and preservation
- Accessible and inclusive tourism