The 20th century has been characterised as the century of acceleration. To travel to other countries and even continents became especially in the last third of the century not only more and more possible, easier, safer and affordable, it also resulted in a perceived “Death of distance”, which let the idea of long-distance travel appear to be more normal and the denial of such travels for the upper strata of society in the Eastern Bloc countries including China less and less acceptable. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union and the democratic changes in many countries, only North Korea, Cuba and China denied their citizens the right to leave the country for leisure purposes.
If the 20th century has been characterised by acceleration, for the early 21st century substitution is seen as a major driving force. The substitution of face-to-face contacts with digital communication is only one example, the substitution of “natural” food by meat, fruits and vegetables produced in industrial dimensions and soon by ersatz ingredients like algae and insects another one. In popular music, instruments have not only been substituted by electronic means of sound production, but recycled samples of existing music are widely used. Commercial ambience music is already produced by AI. AI programs are also able to produce with the help of 3D printers a new painting in the style of Rembrandt, with only the age of the materials giving a clue that it is not an original.
The CoViD-19 crisis has provided social scientists with an experiment of colossal dimensions. In almost all countries and across different cultures, human beings were – and still are – limited in different degrees in their ability and permission to meet other human beings, both in their local surroundings and in national and international dimensions. Virtual contacts in the private form of ordering dinner from delivery services and many other goods from Amazon, JD, and similar companies and in the professional form of online meetings, conferences, webinars etc. were forced at short notice on consumers, workers and managers without alternative.
Tourism theme parks like Madurodam in Holland (1952), the Wonder of the World in Shenzhen (1993) or Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki (1992) offered physical substitutes for a trip to the sight which they present rebuilt in scale. During the last decade and especially during the first half of 2020, digitalisation of sights, 360 degree views of places and virtual walks through art collections and buildings offered a multitude of armchair travel opportunities.
The question if virtual travel will substitute physical travel and if virtual business communication will substitute MICE events and general business travel had a clear answer before 2020: No. The number of domestic and international travels undertaken continued to rise in the 21st century and the news about the death of tourism fairs appeared, in the words of Mark Twain, as greatly exaggerated.
In the Chinese culture, personal relations and joint activities like sharing a dinner and other ways to get the measure of the personality of a potential business partner are still of great importance. In a Zoom meeting you will not have the opportunity to observe how the business partner reacts to an encounter with a beggar while walking down the street or what straits of character appear after the fifth glass of whisky or Maotai.
How to use both virtual and non-virtual communication channels to restart the Chinese outbound market in the coming months will be a topic of the COMPASS EDGE Restart 2020 Webinar China Outbound Tourism, chaired by Anita Chan on Thursday, 16 July 2020 at 10:30 h Berlin time / 16:30 h Hong Kong time. I will have the pleasure to give a presentation and hope that you will find the time to tune in.
And if you just opened your agenda to note down the date, there is another one to make time for: On 4 August, COTRI in partnership with BUZZ.travel, PLANET PAYMENT and Shanghai World Travel Market will hold an online conference with two panel discussions about the demand and supply side developments of Chinese outbound tourism with experts featured with interviews also in the new COTRI publication Welcoming the New Chinese Outbound Tourists. 4 August will be the official launch day for the eBook and there will even be a lucky draw for all participants with the chance to win one of three eBooks.
As always best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY team.