Why the world needs “Meaningful Tourism”

A return of the world to the good old pre-pandemic times is not possible, especially for global tourism. Quality, satisfaction and benefits for all stakeholders involved must become the beacons of tourism development in the 2020s.

The world has grown economically at an ever-increasing rate over the past 30 years without a parallel growth in the political institutions managing globalization – climate catastrophe, the rise of despotism and the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. were the result.

Global tourism spending has even outpaced global GDP growth, but similarly, no regulatory body has emerged to set and enforce limits on the acquisition of public assets like beaches and city centers, to deal with the “carrying capacity” of nature and host communities or to combat both. elephants in the tourism industry chamber: seasonality and substandard working conditions.

In 2018 and 2019 already, a debate under the title of “overtourism” has developed due to growing resistance from host communities. During the pandemic, a plethora of talk has erupted about the need for a “new” tourism, adherence to the Sustainable Development Goals, and the need for tourists to finally start behaving in a more sustainable and sustainable way. .

With the restart of international tourism in recent weeks, there does not seem to be much left of all these debates. Return tickets from Hamburg to Palma de Mallorca are on offer for less than €50, citizens of Barcelona complain that Las Ramblas is more crowded with tourists than ever, even cruise ships have started vomiting 5,000 short visitors again duration in unhappy cities and islands.

There is little point in giving tourists magisterial orders to put the interests of host communities and the environment ahead of their own interests. Nor does it help to speculate on the percentage increase in price customers would be willing to pay for a “greener” tourism product if customers are not more than a better conscience offered for their extra dough.

In nearly all of the many studies and strategy papers recently published for post-pandemic tourism development, the elephants in the room continue to be ignored: the unique approach of many destinations that results in pronounced levels of seasonality and shortages of staff.


Tourism source markets and market segment demands and interests are more segmented than ever, with travelers seeking experience and immersion.

The need for relaxation is no longer the primary goal of leisure tourism. Travelers are concerned with age cohorts over 50 and with a non-Western cultural background.


There is little point in giving tourists magisterial orders to put the interests of host communities and the environment ahead of their own interests.

Wolfgang Georg Alrt

Car factories produce, with the help of artificial intelligence and robots, vehicles each having a different configuration according to the wishes of the customer. Dell started decades ago offering bespoke PCs. In tourism, the Vancouver Island Tourism Board’s decision to transform itself into a “social enterprise created to ensure that travel is a force for good” called 4VI can still be seen as a forward-thinking decision. The insight of the president of the Greek Tourism Confederation SETE that “happy residents bring happy tourists” is still thwarted in many destinations by all-inclusive resorts that prevent contact with the wider destination. Even the leaders of 4VI and SETE still talk about the need to “balance” the interests of hosts and hosts, as if they were enemies, instead of supporting ways to align them and other stakeholders. in a situation beneficial to all.

Having a large number of customers all buying the same product is mainly in the interests of tour operators. Airlines, hotels and restaurants don’t mind travelers flying and staying in one destination. Attractions, mobility companies and merchants will even prefer a greater diversity of visitors.

For most tour operators, “niche” remains a dirty word, but for the rest of the industry it will become, under the guise of “special interest” and “international source market”, the answer to the question how to kill seasonality elephant. Using all parts of a country and all seasons of a year for tourism offerings is possible almost anywhere and anytime, if based on identifying the right market segment world and the good adaptation of the product, which in many cases will include the participation of local populations.

Tour operators are losing out in the tourism industry due to their importance and expertise and Internet access for individual travellers. In a recent survey, only 7% of Chinese travelers, for example, identified traveling in package tour groups as their preference.

The tourism industry will have to catch up with other industries to be part of what Pine & Gilmore described it 20 years ago as the “experience economy”. Sustainable tourism, responsible tourism and restorative tourism will all be necessary elements of this development in the 2020s, but they will not be enough.

“Meaningful Tourism”

Enter ‘Meaningful Tourism’ – a paradigm that is based on a return to quality, satisfaction and benefits for all stakeholders involved, namely customers, host communities, service provider employees, businesses, government and the environment, with quality and satisfaction measured by the stakeholders themselves.

Customers who receive exactly what they wanted, and even a little of what they didn’t know they wanted, will become Product Ambassadors, offering free referral marketing instead of expensive social media marketing and less and less effective.

Host communities will see the benefits of having interesting visitors to interact with, employees will enjoy better pay and year-round jobs with the ability to feel like hosts rather than servants. Businesses will be able to charge higher prices in exchange for better perceived quality, be able to use their resources year-round, and be able to retain and train their staff. Governments will receive more taxes and will be able to use tourism as a tool for regional development.

With a sense of belonging in the sense of a kinship economy, both hosts and hosts can be expected to treat the natural environment with more care.

Put up signs “Verboten!” and flygskam campaigns will not change the behavior of the majority of tourists. Doing something good for the environment won’t convince customers to pay much more money for the same service. Travel is a human right, not a privilege, so pricing and taxing the bottom half of the market is also not an option.

Distinctive benefits are needed to complement the meaningful tourism approach as a key element in changing the attitude and perception of all stakeholders involved. The discussion of the “experience economy” has moved further away from staged experiences towards co-creative experiences and further towards transformative experiences. For the global tourism industry, there is still a long way to go.

About the Author…

Wolfgang Georg Arlt is CEO of COTRI (China Outbound Tourism Research Institute) and Director of Meaningful Tourism Center.