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Reimagining the Future: Old-Fashioned Tourism Will Never Return

It may be quite tough to say which area of our lives the pandemic has touched down on and changed the most. There is of course talk about economics – the number of jobs lost and gained, the overall impact on international business, and the further rise of inequality prompted by the inequitable access to the vaccines. Some are more worried about politics: did covid-19 give a perfectly good excuse to the authoritatively minded governments for the white-washed abuse of power, and will this become a trend in the nearest future, bringing the scope of the state’s overlook to unprecedented levels? Others find the social area to be massively undervalued and raise alarm about the increased levels of depression among the youngest generation and worrying signals of deviant behavior caused by an inability to find jobs.

Amongst all of this, it is only natural that one forgets about the environmental issues (as we arguably have been doing even before the calamity). Jacques Attali, an ex-counselor to French President Francois Mitterrand and the first head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, suggests that we cannot afford another decade or two of putting this especially important topic in the back drawer of our minds. In particular, he believes that, among other important players, tourism is to reinvent itself should we hope to engage in more sustainable practices. What exactly does he suggest?

The main idea is the drastic reduction in mass tourism and a turn towards the quality-over-quantity approach. This would mean a smaller number of travelers, especially international ones, a significant decrease in business trips, and extensive introduction of environmentally conscious practices, perhaps, on the state level if need be. All of this poses a logical question: how would it be regulated? Mr. Attali suggests two strategies: travel for the elite or the lucky.

The first option offers a rather obvious solution: make return tickets worth a couple of months’ salary and hotel rooms – a scarce good, and travel will once again become a privileged man’s activity. Apparently, Bhutan is one of the first adopters of such an approach and many others may choose to follow soon. For those countries who prefer to view themselves as more democratic and equal, a lottery for the limited number of tourist spots per week/month/year is perhaps a more luring option. Testing luck rather than wallet does speak to the sense of fairness in us; however, it is important to remember that the outcome will remain the same – in both cases a large portion of would-be-wander lusters has to prepare for disappointment.

This may all work well in theory, yet the highly positive sentiment from the demand side of the market makes us doubt whether any of the two approaches are sustainable in practice. Motivating people to cut on their consumption – in this case, on travel – through artificially restricting their choice might function in the short-run (even if it displeases a large share of the world population) but the long-term consequences are unknown. As long as we live in a world shaped by consumerism, any sharp reduction in customers may lead to yet another crisis all of us are trying so hard to avoid.

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