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Global tourism impacts and creating the new normal

Last week, Visit Durango attended the Destinations International 2020 Annual Conference, the world’s largest conference for destination organizations and tourism boards.

Theresa Graven

The multi-day event brings together over 1,600 travel and tourism leaders from around the globe to learn and network through educational sessions, speakers and a trade show.

Normally the event takes place over two full days, but let’s face it, 2020 has been anything but normal. AC20 rightly centered on the tourism industry’s COVID-19 response and recovery, building partnerships and relationships, creating the “new normal” work environment and providing data to help destinations move forward. As our industry pivots to virtual trade shows in a time of Zoom fatigue, event organizers stepped up their game with guided yoga and meditation, virtual smoothies and mixology demonstrations in lieu of happy hour.

Keynote speakers offered a blend of inspiration and resilience during one of the biggest public health and economic disasters in most of our lifetimes. The two-day event started with Carey Lohrenz, the first female U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot, discussing what it takes to succeed in one of the most demanding, extreme environments imaginable. Mitch Albom, the author of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” philanthropist, columnist, and sports reporter, concluded the conference on a positive, uplifting and tear-jerking note.

Our team attended several timely and inspiring educational sessions, soaking in knowledge and insights from some of the greatest minds in the industry. Here are just a few examples of what to expect when it comes to the tourism industry’s response and economic outlook moving forward.

Pre-COVID, the tourism industry contributed $1.8 trillion to the global economy and over 10% of global GDP, resulting in 330 million jobs and 1.2 billion international travelers. Post-COVID, the travel industry is facing a 53% decrease in international arrivals and 34% domestically, equaling a $3.4 trillion loss in global GDP and 121 million jobs lost.

Despite the setbacks, demand for consumer travel is strong. Yet until there is a COVID vaccine, actively promoting travel during a global pandemic is a tricky balancing act weighing economic recovery with social responsibility, public health and safety. While we don’t have a crystal ball or all the answers, here are a few highlights from the conference, along with examples of Visit Durango’s recovery strategies moving forward.

There is a stronger shift towards responsible travel than ever before. “Leading the Conversation: Paving the Way for Responsible Tourism in the New World“ featured expert panelists from Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, Rwanda Development Board and Destination Greater Victoria. The session made the case for travel as a force for good and demonstrated how destinations can adapt their marketing to attract the responsible traveler.

I first came to Colorado as a visitor in 1996 and then moved here as soon as I could, so I understand why people want to visit and live here. Since 1998 our state’s population has grown by nearly 50% from 3.9 million to 5.8 million today. I’ve seen firsthand what growing popularity and overtourism can do to our state’s roadways, trails and campgrounds. And it’s not just visitors because we’re all human and it’s not always convenient to follow our own advice. No one has a greater right to our public lands or your favorite local spot, but we all have a shared responsibility to keep our community a place people want to live and visit.

During AC20, I learned how tourism and conservation are interconnected in Rwanda and how sustainability permeates every aspect of life in Victoria, Canada. While it seems our country has a long way to go when it comes to being united on anything these days, I believe our community has the collective will and desire to see our tourism industry and economy flourish in a safe and economically sustainable way. One thing that resonated during AC20 and continues to stand out is that Visit Durango is on the right track when it comes to our in-crisis response and recovery.

Visit Durango just conducted its first Resident Sentiment Survey with over 1200 responses. Moving ahead we will continue to engage residents and we invite you to take a more active role in tourism management and development. Of course, we are not discontinuing marketing or proactively promoting visitation to Durango. In fact our biggest goal is to foster a more consistent, year-round economy to support our local businesses and frontline workers. We’re also exploring ways to attract less price sensitive, more high value travelers.

Lastly, we’ll continue to strengthen partnerships with local stakeholders to magnify the positive impacts of our collective destination marketing and management efforts. We will provide more tools and resources to our industry partners, while working closely with the City, County, D&SNGRR, Purgatory, Chamber and BID. Stay tuned as we’re getting ready to announce the results from our RSI survey and new strategic vision for destination marketing and management moving forward. Please contact marketing@durango.org if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Theresa Graven is the Tourism & Communications Director for Visit Durango. She can be reached at 247-3500 or theresa@durango.org.