On 18th February 2022, I had a sparkling evening at the Nadi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to deliver a lecture by reviewing the theme of Domestic Tourism in academic literature used as a recovery and resilience strategy during a pandemic.
The theme was “Economy recovery and returning to tourism” at the event of the 2022’s first Business Forum and Celebrating Chinese New Year. The augusted audience was receptive to the ideas and took something home after the lecture.
This Oped throws light on some crucial issues of sustainability of domestic tourism during COVID-19 and its future viability. Although Fiji is a small island state, it also boosted its tourism sector by implying the “Love our Locals Campaign”, which proved successful.
COVID-19: International Tourism’s Catastrophe
Tourism is a volatile industry, as it faces many challenges. Coronavirus is a worldwide health epidemic that has produced an unprecedented catastrophe in the travel and tourism sector, internationally during the 21st century. It led to a downfall in the tourism industry, with millions of jobs lost following the suspension of international travel. That led to a loss of trillions of revenue due to the closure of national borders and lockdowns.
During a pandemic, destinations that are heavily dependent on international tourism tried to find a solution in promoting domestic tourism. Business and Political voices were pushing for the reopening of the economies. Domestic tourism promotion has been used as a recovery strategy in many countries.
Ramifications of a pandemic in the field of economic, social and health challenges were a cause of huge anxiety for nations who are dependent on tourism. They noticed the shutdown of borders, travel restrictions, national lockdowns, travel bans, cancellation of bookings, closure of businesses, bankruptcy, fall in occupancy rates and revenue, rise in unemployment and many made redundant. Tourism experts based on antecedent epidemics claimed the recovery shall take six to eight months, while others predicted it would be extended to 2021-2024. During the pandemic, international tourism was hit the hardest, and many nations moved towards domestic tourism as a recovery and survival strategy.
Domestic Tourism: Ray of Hope
The strategies of promoting domestic tourism included allowing cheap domestic flights as part of a subsidy-based recovery strategy and attracting the attention of people to opt for domestic vacations. Visitors may be enticed by low-cost stays, special deals, reduced VAT rates on tourist products, and digital advertisements. To encourage low-income travellers, give out gift cards/vouchers for use on their next business trip, and this implies “Enjoy Now and Pay Later”. Stakeholders tried to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment for both visitors and employees by using innovative methods. Tourists’ perceptions of the host country and its officials will be improved if they get vaccinations. Many nations commenced sanitation projects of the highest quality
Demand and Supply Side: Tourism Stakeholders
Tourism literature highlights risk perceptions of travellers, like the host destination’s health, hygiene, and privacy (Jiang and Wen, 2020), quality of healthcare implied [safety measures and physical distancing]. They also have a fear of contamination as a psychological factor. Here the media plays a pivotal role in developing the public opinion of a destination to travel. Travellers are also looking for the cleanliness of airports, public areas, hotels, restaurants, and other tourist sites is a top priority for travellers.
In and after the pandemic, there is a change in the Tourist psyche (Rogerson et al, 2021) that describes the rise of tourism ethnocentricism” [Individuals felt moral obligation to support the domestic tourist economy]/ “a patriotic duty”; travellers also consider ‘Home-is-safe-than-aboard Bias’ in comparison to travelling abroad.
Visitors shall be avoided in large groups and prefer less populated areas, or would prefer to visit a secure and familiar destination. Rogerson and others (2021) also described people prefer less inter-human contact, such as natural environment (Green Spaces)/ecotourism/ mountain/ green tourism and adventure tourism. There shall be a rise in preference for free spaces, air purity and water freshness.
After pandemic the mode of travel preference may also change, as there is a high perceived risk in travelling via cruise ships, air travels, public transport, so a preferred shift in mobility like private cars, motorbikes, rented cars, motor homes, self-drive tourism etc. (Rogerson et al, 2021). Future self-guided and self-driven trips may change over the group and organised tours.
Deterrents of demand-side included the affordability of tourism services by domestic tourists as they have low and less disposable income. They cannot afford to travel for leisure and pay premium prices. The pricing of tourism products needs to be reduced and subsidised to lure the local travellers. There is a need to make tailor-made domestic tour packages. If the price regulatory framework is implied, that shall motivate the local tourist to extend their stay over 1-2 days.
Supply Side on Domestic Tourism: Short Term Measures
In the perspective of supply-side/tourist managers, it has made them develop strategies that give a sense of security, satisfy the need for information and stimulate confidence. Measures like protocols are established and guidelines for the accommodation are provided in advance or through technology. Tourist managers have to determine different risks and enter requirements and establish flexible fully refundable cancellation policies to increase travellers’ confidence. There has been a use of apps for smart devices to support the digital transition.
Nations have established COVID-19 helplines for tourists, and tourists shall prefer room services in comparison to having buffets in future. Tourist stakeholders may establish clean/green and safe seals for tourist activities (Orindaru et al., 2021). The managers/stakeholders believe domestic tourism might not be sustainable as locals may not pay the premium prices.
Tourism managers see the low number of domestic tourists as a massive issue of concern. Offering discounts to tourists can motivate them to travel, but many experts believe domestic market resilience strategy is a short term measure/respite that can help the hotel to sustain for some time but cannot become a profitable business in the long run.
Other experts may have a contrary opinion. The experts in favour of domestic tourism as a sustainable mode of strategy believe the aggressive marketing among domestic tourism need to be supported by government and insurance schemes to provide access to health care away from home.
The research scholars believe that destination recovery should be with domestic markets and followed by regional and international tourism markets (Higgins-Desboilles, 2020). Confidence in travelling and risk perception will determine the speed of recovery.
They also believe that tourist stakeholders shall need government support (interest-free loans; provide funds for promoting domestic destinations). Domestic tourism initiatives help in mitigating perceived risk and kickstart the global tourism industry (Volgger at al. 2021). Domestic tourism strategy may be termed as short term strategy, but under pandemic, it has become the only ray of hope for existence.
Disclaimer: Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history and Acting Head of School, School of Arts and Humanities, College of Humanities and Education, at Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. [email protected]