Caring capacity

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Prof. John Ap, Professor & Director, Global Centre for Tourism Education & Training at Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM), an old China tourism hand, told a journalist of the South China Morning post recently the following: “Assuming ongoing uncertainty, tour operators will have to be flexible and resilient, and provide more experiences that are tailored and exclusive. What sort of experience do we want to provide – that’s the key. ‘More’ is not necessarily better; travel will not be about numbers but quality. Chinese tourists will look at the ‘caring capacity’ of destinations and businesses to safely accommodate and be able to offer a good experience, not a crowded one.”

I fully agree with John, especially as he introduced a term which is very helpful: “Caring Capacity”. If you enter it in Google, Mama Google wants you to use for “Carrying capacity” instead, and if you insist on the original term, what you find is related to geriatrics like an article from 1999 called “Three-phase development of caring capacity in primary caregivers for relatives with Alzheimer’s disease”. Switching to Google Scholar does not help either. 

Therefore, I feel free to incorporate the term into our model of MEANINGFUL TOURISM. “Carrying Capacity” is easy to define for any service which involves entry tickets or numbers of seats in a restaurant etc., in most cases the Health and Safety Department will give a clear definition of what is your carrying capacity. To define the Carrying Capacity of a city like Barcelona is much trickier, and as we saw before the pandemic, tourism service providers and local communities did – violently – disagree on which number of visitors is still acceptable.

With “Caring Capacity” we move from quantity to quality. How many, especially foreign, visitors can be received by a destination in a way that the guests still feel welcome. This has little to do with square meters and available hotel beds, but with the attitude and expectations of both guests and hosts, with the information available, and with the form of tourism prevailing. Discussing the Caring Capacity of a place for a specific group of visitors, Chinese for instance, and how to improve it, measure it and control it, will provide much more meaningful strategies than the “doughnut economy” strategies of cities like Amsterdam. The city has adopted ordinances that variously prevent souvenir shops from displacing local businesses, developers from turning residential spaces into short-term rental flats, and new hotels from being built. Furthermore, it has hiked up the tax tourists pay for overnight stays.

Such a concept may please the richer citizens of Amsterdam, the lawyers, and dentists who do not need to work in tourism jobs, but it is a concept not in line with a sharing economy. Amsterdam does not belong exclusively to the Amsterdamers.

Certainly, the people living in tourism hot-spots were happy for a few months to have tranquility in their cities and on their islands. However, the solution is not No Tourism, the solution is Better Tourism which creates positive encounters – and jobs – between hosts and guests.

Building walls, against Mexicans on land or against refugees on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea or in the form of gated communities in cities are no long-term solution, rather the opposite.

Let’s build our mutual “Caring Capacity” instead.

As always, best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team.