…Words from 2020 we might like to forget, but not the lessons
2020 – the year of COVID-19 and all it wrought – is coming to a close. And despite the promise of the arrival of many millions of doses of vaccines, the uptick in daily reported cases in Canada is testament that January 1 will not usher in a Happy New Year for some.
Beyond the stories of personal loss and hardship, many experts believe the impacts of the pandemic on the Canadian economy will be long-lasting and severe. Too many industries and businesses have already felt the impact of COVID deeply, and tourism has been particularly hard hit.
A study by Statistics Canada in October suggests that the economic impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry could reach over $37 billion and result in a loss of over 400,000 jobs. Since this report was released in October, the second wave of COVID has proved to be even more severe than predicted.1
For business owners and site operators that depend – directly or indirectly – on visitors from outside the community, the protracted restrictions mean severe losses, if not outright closures. The operational and growth plans of many SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) have been based on a model of direct interaction with their customers: offering a direct product or service (food, accommodations, guided tours, retail opportunities, etc.).
For destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and the tourism sites that fall under their purview, “nimble” and “pivot” have become two of the top (if not most annoying) words of the 2020 industry vernacular.
Digitalisation (another one to add to the lexicon) is described as “the use of digital technologies and data as well as interconnection that results in new activities or changes to existing activities.”2 This approach may provide much needed opportunities for DMOs and operators to adapt (ie, “be nimble and pivot”) guided tours to self-directed and even virtual experiences that engage visitors in different and meaningful ways.
In their pre-COVID report, Tourism Trends and Policies 2020, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) argues:
digitalisation is bringing unprecedented opportunities for tourism SMEs to access new markets, develop new tourism products and services, adopt new business models and processes, upgrade their position in global tourism value chains and integrate into digital ecosystems.
However, the authors also note that many tourism SMEs have been slow to embrace these opportunities and sound the alarm that businesses “that do not invest in their digitalisation will not survive, let alone thrive in the future.”
Recognizing that I may be appearing all doom and gloom, I have one final, overused expression for this piece: silver linings.
When my wife and I decided to shut down her yoga studio on March 13, 2020, we knew we were going to have to adapt or perish. The plan to create an online studio that we had been “too busy to get to” for two years was up and running in two weeks. Was it our preferred plan? No. Did we take a big loss going this route? Absolutely; compared to our bricks and mortar studio, this represented an initial 75% drop in revenue. But it wasn’t a 100% drop. We were still in business, if barely. For us, this forced new model (she is still not teaching in-person) allowed us to open our eyes to other ways of providing a service. Silver linings.
Similarly, this new, lateral thinking laid the path for exploring new ways of helping my tourism clients adapt to a new world. For DMOs and tourism SMEs, leveraging digital technology to temporarily replace docent-based guided tours with web and mobile apps-based, self-guided tours is one of the ways to attract and engage visitors while still adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols. Longer-term, the use of these apps can augment local offerings. Cycling and walking tours, winery and brewery tours, environmental and cultural educational tours are just several of the many ways that apps like STQRY can be used to increase awareness of a destination, attract visitors, and improve the local economy, environment and cultural knowledge of a community.