Hello Emma, welcome back. We left off in February 2020. We have lived through complex months of uncertainty, change, digital acceleration and now great hope. What scenario are you observing in tourism destinations today?
The pandemic has not only triggered epochal new changes, but has also accelerated trends that were already underway, definitively changing tourism as we have always known it. It is clear that the pandemic has revealed the fragility of the old tourism models, that were too inflexible in a world that is even more accelerated. In this sense, several destinations and operators are implementing flexible booking and travel solutions, such as IHG Hotels, which has launched the “Book now, pay later” formula, offering maximum flexibility and no advance payment.
The tour operator Intrepid Travel has adopted similar policies: on most tours, travellers pay the deposit and secure their place, after which they have up to 21 days before departure to pay the remaining cost of the trip. This flexible booking policy also allows travellers to cancel or change their tour 21 days in advance without a penalty.
Another popular tour operator, G Adventures, is currently offering deposits of as little as $1 on more than 450 trips for travel until March 2022.
Today, every single aspect of the destination is being designed with a holistic and wellness approach, for the local community and, by extension, for the visitor. This is what China is doing, investing heavily in rural tourism linked to wellbeing and nature, or Barcelona, which is converting the famous Rambla into a cultural hub to revamp pre-pandemic mass tourism, making it liveable again for both residents and visitors. On the Italian scene we find, for example, Milan, with its sustainable mobility plan “Strade Aperte” (Open Roads), which aims to make the city more liveable through the creation of new public spaces, and pedestrian and bicycle areas. The first photovoltaic cycle path in Italy will be created in Milan to combine gentle mobility with clean energy production in a city, increasingly in line with the European Bauhaus direction.
Tourist destinations are, therefore, faced with important challenges in order to continue to be relevant on the market: identifying gaps to be filled with new travel solutions; intercepting the needs – even latent ones – of visitors; understanding the real value that increasingly knowledgeable travellers attribute to travel, and fully exploiting the potential attractions of individual regions.
Travellers’ needs, which cut across a multitude of different facets, are among some of the themes that stand out and will be addressed at BTO.
What are you working on specifically in the working group you are coordinating? What are the main themes and objectives of the “DESTINATION” topic?
For the 2021 edition of BTO, the advisory board of the “Destination” theme, which I coordinate together with my team of Destination Makers, has worked on various proposals, from sustainable mobility to examples of virtuous destinations in the field of urban and cultural regeneration, from the importance of data and digitalisation for a “frictionless” use of territories to important themes such as accessibility and inclusivity of tourism, passing through the effectiveness of digital travel media and specific themes such as the M.I.C.E. segment, city quitting, workation and the return to villages.
The main objective we set ourselves was to reflect on the transformations underway and to try to think about possible future scenarios, so as to provide concrete ideas for the effective management of destinations, their offer and their promotion in this important moment of restart and possible change.
We placed great emphasis on the theme of usability, which has become central in these uncertain times: what is the relevance of digitalisation? How do you design a destination that is truly accessible at all levels? Digitalisation is a medium that must be used in relation to the target audience and, in general, to an inclusive and holistic design of the destination, so that it is truly effective.
Can you give us some insights or tell us something new? What has changed, if anything, in preparing a scientific programme in this scenario?
Thinking about a scientific programme at this time of continuous change meant first of all thinking about the effects of these changes, and how to bring interesting and valuable interventions to the public.
For this reason, we have involved some of the leading experts, from cultural planning to those responsible for major national and international digital initiatives, in order to demonstrate the process underway and how it is constantly evolving.
On the opening day on 24 November and during the Destination day on 26 November, panels will focus on giving new and different points of view on the topics discussed, stimulating listeners to be empathetic and inspiring them to change their perspective.
Among the big names of this edition are international organisations and projects such as Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC); European Capitals of Smart Tourism; Sojern; Malta Tourism Authority, ENAT – European Network for accessible tourism, Hotellerie Suisse, Digital Nomad Association Malta, several Italian and foreign universities, and other important entities and companies in the travel sector worldwide..
How will the theme “Frictionless” be interpreted in your Topic?
When talking about tourist destinations, we interpreted the theme “Frictionless” by reasoning on what are, on the one hand, the new needs of tourists and, on the other, the main problems that they may encounter throughout their customer journey.
Beginning from the stage of the desire to travel and inspiration, and arriving at the post-trip moment when the tourist remembers and shares, it is very important for the destination to be present in a constant yet non-invasive way, providing the visitor with everything he or she needs as long as it is without friction. This is where digitalisation, the common thread running through the whole Destination theme, comes in handy.
Why do you think it will be important to follow BTO this year and, in particular, your Destination day on 26 November? What will the public take home with them?
Following BTO in this pandemic period is fundamental in order to listen to the various testimonials and positive case studies on the various topics covered by the event. Ever since my first edition of BTO, it has been a very important time of discussion and training to chart the future course for the travel industry in Italy and to draw new life from valuable experiences and projects, as well as to listen to and personally meet experts from all over the world.
Above all, BTO is the right occasion to understand the patterns that are shaping the new way of promoting tourism and destinations in Italy and abroad, and to also apply them to the new post-pandemic strategies of destination marketing and management.