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Vaccine passports in place for four years: Tourism expert

Lucy Dean
·5-min read
Sérgio Guerreiro is an expert on the future of tourism. Here's what he thinks will happen next. Images: Supplied, Getty
Sérgio Guerreiro is an expert on the future of tourism. Here's what he thinks will happen next. Images: Supplied, Getty

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Proof of vaccination will likely be a mandatory requirement for travel for the next three or four years, a tourism expert has said. But beyond that, the future of travel is bright.

The changing face of travel means businesses with creativity and adaptability will survive, provided they present new opportunities for conscious tourists, the head of knowledge management and innovation for Turismo de Portugal Sérgio Guerreiro told Yahoo Finance.

However, businesses without the ability to innovate will struggle as consumers demand more specialised experiences, safety considerations and flexibility.

“I don’t believe that everything will change. I think we will move to a more polarised model, there will be a certain volume of tourists that will demand less crowded, unknown, clean places,” Guerreiro said, speaking ahead of Pause Fest’s celebration of innovation in March.

Watch: Airbnb Australia country manager talks COVID-19.

“So thinking about opportunities for nature tourism, for beautiful places. We’ve actually been pushing for that in Portugal.”

At the other end of the travel spectrum, there will still be high demand for business travel and more traditional tourism.

He pointed to Italy, where in the days after their first lockdown, Venice’s Piazza San Marco was full, as was the Duomo di Milan.

“We will have this polarisation, which means that for the destinations and for the businesses, they need to be [prepared to] adapt their strategies.”

Additionally, businesses that fail to digitise risk not only falling behind in terms of reaching tourists online, but also in aligning with national public health standards.

Tourists and state authorities will be demanding evidence that their destinations are COVID-safe.

“It’s something that will have to be critical,” he said.

“A lot of innovation will be needed, because when COVID-19 is past, people will travel like crazy but… the best experience destinations will be the first to recover.”

For now, the main challenge is optimising businesses to survive until travel reopens.

Last year was the worst year in the history of international tourism, with the global industry losing an estimated US$1.3 trillion in export revenue. And most experts believe international tourism won’t return to 2019 levels until at least 2023.

The majority of tourism experts are not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.
The majority of tourism experts are not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.

As Guerreiro noted, not many industries can survive 18 months with less than 50 per cent of their demand.

“I think a lot of work in building skills and helping companies survive in the coming years will be important, but I’m quite optimistic.”

Travel has become a value of society, not just a commodity, he explained. And as such, it’s something that is needed as a civilisation.

For the industry, that means they need to “upgrade their expectations”.

Portugal’s future and the role of innovation

Portugal has reshaped itself as a leading travel destination. Image: Getty
Portugal has reshaped itself as a leading travel destination. Image: Getty

Guerreiro is uniquely placed to comment on the future of travel, also working as chairman of the OECD Tourism Committee and having performed extended stints on the European Travel Commission, the World Tourism Organisation and the World Economic Forum.

And Portugal itself has also been recognised as a tourism success story. The tourism sector pulled the economically troubled nation from the brink of collapse following the GFC.

It also means Portugal has been hit hard by the pandemic, with chief economist at Banco BPI Paula Carvalho flagging a 12 per cent hit to 2020 GDP.

However, Guerreiro said Portugal’s previous recovery has had three parts, the welcoming nature of Portuguese people, economic resilience and again, innovation.

“Portugal survived the 2008 and 2009 crisis which was huge and had a huge impact internationally, and we had another one in 2011 and 2012 and basically our industry showed it’s resilience, and that if we worked we could keep growing, in spite of economic crises,” Guerreiro said.

“[And] what really turned Portugal into a destination after the economic crises was the ability of the Portuguese industry to design new products, design new experiences, bring new concepts. And we did quite well with that, and I seriously believe that this will be a key element for the recovery process after COVID-19.”

The founder of Pause Fest, George Hedon agrees, adding that innovation now needs to be recognised as the key to success in all industries.

“Creativity has forever been the main driving factor of innovation. Board management is now understanding that they need to integrate it in every aspect of the business and not just keep it a hostage in the creative department,” Hedon told Yahoo Finance.

“What’s really amazing about creativity is its X-factor; it can take you down any road you want to if curious enough.”

To Guerreiro, that means swapping out an “it’s not possible” approach to disruption and experimentation, and replacing it with a “what if” mindset.

“[Portugal] has thousands of great places to see, great restaurants to try and they are not even digitised, so it’s a world to build. Our community of innovators believes that everything is possible, so we should connect the dots and think about the consumer and how to engage the best solutions.”

Sérgio Guerreiro will join Atlassian, NASA, Netflix and more to speak at Pause Fest from 1 - 12 March 2021.

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