Editorial: Meaningful Tourism is more than meaningful travel

by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS

Dr. Taleb Rifai, former Secretary-General of the UNWTO and currently S.G. of WTFI World Tourism Forum Institute and namesake of the Dr. Taleb Rifai Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre at the Middle East University in Amman, optimistically forecasted that “Tourism will not bounce back but will leap forward into a new world, a new normal: A better and more sustainable world”. 

Alas, with the slow recovery of global tourism at least outside of China, the new normal emerging looks all too familiar. Air tickets from Hamburg to Mallorca for 19 Euro, Cruise ships back in full force, and the pandemic a hopefully-soon-to-be-forgotten nightmare. 

Among those starting to go abroad again many have learned from the confrontation with SARS-CoV-2 to cherish life and not to take it for granted. The invasion of Ukraine has added another layer of consciousness about the fragility of freedom and democracy. That is also true for Chinese citizens, even though they will have to wait probably longer than most others before the borders open up again for them, as the unstoppable wave of CoViD-19 Omicron B.A.2, your humble editor reluctantly predicted some months ago, has arrived in all parts of Mainland China except Xinjiang and Tibet, with the first deaths in connection with CoViD-19 reported since January 2021.

Many will look forward to “MEANINGFUL TOURISM”. According to the Encyclopedia of Tourism Management and Marketing, edited by Dimitrios Buhalis, “‘Meaningful tourism’ refers to a new concept for the post-pandemic development of global tourism first coined by Arlt (2021). It is a new paradigm seen as advancing the previous concepts of sustainable and responsible tourism. It changes the predominantly supply-side sustainable tourism and negative-perspective responsible tourism towards a demand-side and positive-perspective paradigm, promoting tourism that is meaningful for all stakeholders involved”. These are namely guests, host communities, staff, companies, governments and the environment. 

“Meaningful Travel” has been used since a couple of years, but concentrates according to several topical websites on the idea to “enrich your life”, so that you “return inspired, aware and grounded, eager to share and teach others of your life experiences”. “Many people feel that meaningful travel is strictly about going on a volunteering vacation, but there are many ways to make your travel meaningful and to enrich your travels while making your life and other people’s lives better.”

There is even a tour operator company Meaningful Travel Experiences, which ”allows travellers to visit destinations with the knowledge that in doing so, they are supporting local people and businesses in honest work, they are deeply immersing themselves in other cultures, and they are experiencing a destination meaningfully.”

All this is carefully avoiding the term “tourism”. However, as Eduardo Santander, the CEO of the European Travel Commission points out in the new online MEANINGFUL TOURISM training programme, the better “new normal” needs to cover all those going abroad, not just the elite few who see themselves as “travellers” and – God forbid – not as tourists. 

To feel good from spending money locally and thereby supporting the locals is about the only aspect mentioned not concentrating on self-enrichment. 

Post-pandemic tourism recovery programs published by national and international government institutions on the other hand concentrate their attention mostly on the environment and the ecological footprint of tourism.  

MEANINGFUL TOURISM, however, can only become the “new normal”, if all stakeholders interests are taken into account, including not the least the staff working for tourism and hospitality service providers. Similar to locals unhappy with “invasions” of visitors, staff members will not increase the satisfaction of visitors if they are not happy with the work situation including not only payment but also appreciation and – you guessed it – Meaningfulness of their work. Maria Puetz, the Editor of the publication HospitalityInside provides in the MEANINGFUL TOURISM training programme the example of some hotel chains changing to a 4×10 h work week instead of 5×8 hours, which increases the spirit and motivation of their staff, especially when combined with decent pay and the greater involvement of staff in TQM Total Quality Management processes. 

Thereby moving from “The customer is king” to “With the tide coming in, all boats rise together”, hopefully, will help to bring us to the better “new normal” of Dr. Rifai!  

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

COTRI Intelligence

COTRI Intelligence is the indispensable source of weekly consulting, analysis, data and news for everybody seriously interested in the post-pandemic Chinese outbound tourism market and changing Chinese consumer preferences.  COTRI Intelligence is published by COTRI China Outbound Tourism Research Institute and edited by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt FRGS FRAS. Regional partners and Content partners [...]

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