Sustainable & Experiential Tourism Trends Post Covid 19
The altering trajectory of the tourism sector has provided both businesses as well as governments the opportunity to understand and adapt themselves to take advantage of emerging trends. The covid-19 pandemic was a dark time for the entire tourism industry. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual Economic Impact Report, the travel and tourism industry lost almost $ 4.9 trillion in GDP (50.4 per cent decline) and 62 million jobs (18.6 per cent decline) in 2020 alone . For context, in 2021, the GDP of Germany ranked 4th in the world and was $ 4.22 trillion. This shows the magnitude of the impact the pandemic had on the sector. While early signs indicate that the industry is heading towards a strong post-pandemic recovery, shifts in consumer behaviours and preferences have led to emerging sub-sectors within tourism that will soon outperform traditional forms of travel. Tony Capuano, CEO of Marriott International, stated that “The way we live, and work has changed because of the pandemic and the way we travel has changed as well”. While sustainable and experiential tourism has been gaining popularity beforehand, the pandemic was a catalyst for growth in these sub-sectors.
The United Nations Environment Program and United Nations World Tourism Organization define Sustainable Tourism as, “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities” . Therefore, by definition, the three pillars of sustainable tourism are:
- Environmental: Optimal use of resources, preservation of ecological processes, conservation of biodiversity and natural heritage
- Economic: Fair distribution of benefits from economic activity, stable employment, contribution to poverty relief
- Cultural: Intercultural understanding, tolerance, conservation of cultural value and historic sites
Growing awareness of the global climate crisis has led to a large number of travellers seeking eco-friendly and responsible holiday options. According to a report released by Booking.com, one of the world's largest travel marketplaces, “83 per cent of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital and 61 per cent say the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future” . This reveals that the pandemic was the tipping point for many travellers and that there is now a strong consumer preference for sustainability throughout the industry. According to a report published by Future Market Insights (FMI), the sustainable tourism market size is forecasted to surpass $ 1 Tn in 2022 and will grow to $ 8.4 Tn by 2032.
The Government of India has already taken note of the strong push towards sustainable travel. In April 2022, the Ministry of Tourism launched the National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism outlining the vision, mission, and strategic pillars for the development of sustainable tourism in the country. In November 2022, the Ministry of Tourism organised the first regional workshop to develop sustainable and responsible tourist destinations and promote sustainable tourism in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh . Additionaly, the Ministry of Tourism's flagship programme, Swadesh Darshan 2.0 aims to strengthen tourist destinations by developing tourism infrastructure in the country led by sustainable ideals.
Leading tourism corporations have also taken steps to ensure they offer sustainable travel options to potential customers. For example, Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel company, has laid out its 2025 sustainability and social impact goals with the aim to reduce environmental footprint and obtain recognized sustainability certifications in 100 per cent of their hotels. Another good example is Airbnb’s resource centre which provides tips and advice to hosts that are looking to operate more sustainably. Airbnb has also committed to a goal of operating as a net zero company for all corporate operations by the year 2030.
Experiential Tourism offers travellers active and meaningful engagements with a destination’s culture, people, and/or environment to create unique and memorable experiences. Therefore, experiential tourism is an umbrella term that would cover adventure, cultural, culinary, and luxury tourism. Post the pandemic, travellers have set different expectations of the trips and destinations they consider. According to a poll conducted by travel site Expedia, travellers are now planning to go big with a new “no regrets” style of travel by eyeing the best travel experiences. The poll also revealed that travellers are more willing to spend more to immerse themselves in completely new destinations, cultures, experiences and are most excited about doing things they would usually never do. The surge in experiential tourism offers businesses and governments the opportunity to attract high value low traffic.
Similar to the National Strategy for Sustainable Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism has also launched the National Strategy for Adventure Tourism . While adventure tourism is a subset of experiential tourism as a whole, the Ministry of Tourism has identified it as an important focus area for Indian Tourism. The goal is to position India as a preferred destination for adventure tourism globally. The Ministry of Tourism also extends necessary assistance to State Tourism Departments in the preparation of the State Strategy for Adventure Tourism. This showcases the commitment that the government has towards expanding the range of tourism offerings in India.
Leading tour operators and online travel booking platforms have been quick to offer unique experiences to travellers to attract the high value clientele. Airbnb, for example, introduced Airbnb Adventures which offers “curated journeys for the nervous novice up to the seasoned trekker, for a range of budgets, interests, and locations”. Similarly, National Geographic offers a variety of options to “travel beyond the ordinary'' with National Geographic Expeditions. Many online platforms are now offering custom trips to attract the modern traveller. Tourists no longer want to only flock to the same monuments and museums as before, instead they crave to be introduced to an entirely new realm in their travels.
It is clear that the demand for travel is very resilient. A fast-paced recovery from the pandemic and an increase in disposable income means that the future of the tourism industry does indeed look bright. However, for businesses and governments to reap benefits, they will have to adapt to cater to the needs of modern-day tourists that demand trips that are both unique as well as sustainable in nature. It is also equally important for businesses and governments to position and promote offerings in ways that attract modern-day tourists.
India finds itself in a compelling position amongst these emerging trends as its unique spectrum of tourism offerings along with its focus on sustainability allows the country to appeal to the modern-day tourist. Therefore, leading global businesses in the tourism industry are strongly considering these factors in their business expansion plans. Recently, the Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted the tourism sector as one of the focus areas in the union budget stating that “tourism promotion will be taken up on a mission mode with active participation of states, and through public-private partnerships (PPPs)”.
To capitalize on the industry’s momentum, the Government of India will be organizing a Global Tourism Investors Summit in Q2 of 2023. The main objective of the event is to promote the Indian travel and tourism industry as an ‘Investment Destination’ and to provide a common platform for the Central/State Governments and investors to discuss investment possibilities in the tourism industry of India. The mega event will play a key role in the development of the sector and can be a turning point for India’s Tourism Story. We encourage all interested parties to go to visit https://www.gtistourism.in/ or contact our team at Invest India for more information.