Is the ability to forget the key to bringing back tourism? It is no secret that crises can severely affect travelers perception of whether a destination is worthy of a visit. So how do executives make would-be tourists forget the painful memories of 2020? Or are the travelers just as eager to ffile those memories away and start fresh?
The good news for the tourism industry is that thanks to months of isolation, our memory skills have deteriorated, and it is highly likely that some (if not all) of the bad things that have happened (individually and collectively) will be forgotten or diminished in intensity, and tourism will flourish once again.
The concept of forgetfulness is an important consideration when hotel, travel and tourism executives discuss consumer postcrisis behavior as they plan a viable marketing strategy. By concentrating on forgetfulness and memory loss and steering away from the idea of risk, industry executives may be able to develop a workable understanding of the cognitive and emotional processes influencing tourist behavior.
It is not a huge leap to acknowledge that the risk perceptions and attitudes towards destinations are impacted by crises. Emergencies and/or disasters can lead to a change in travel plans that may encourage travelers to avoid a destination/attraction, postpone a trip or totally delete the idea of travel from a holiday or business agenda.
Fortunately for the industry, over time, the adverse effects of a crises are forgotten, and a destination recovers as people’s needs, desires and motives to travel take on greater value than the risk and they reallocate time and money to the destination and/or attraction. The change in perception will occur more quickly if tourism executives have taken (or appear to have taken) steps to ameliorate the apparent problems.
The link between memory and forgetfulness comes from Greek mythology. Memory (Mnemosyne) and forgetfulness (Lethe) are represented as two parallel rivers in the underworld of Hades and the personification of the goddesses of Memory and Oblivion.
The souls of the dead were required to drink from the waters of Lethe to forget their early life before being reincarnated, while initiates were encouraged to drink from its counterpart, Mnemosyne, to stop the transgression of the soul as they would remember everything and achieve omniscience. Memory and forgetfulness represent two opposite yet inextricable linked concepts.
As I read the press releases from destination trade associations, hotel groups, airlines and a myriad of hospitality industry public relations consultants, there is the strong belief that 2021 will see a resurgence in tourism, domestically and internationally. Management consulting firms and other research pundits are more cautious, suggesting that the industry will have to wait and watch until the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2021 to see the gates open and tourists repopulate hotels, restaurants, shops and town squares.
Whether the tourism executives realize it or not, what they are counting on, as they tally – up the proposed return on their investments (ROI), is the “hope” that holiday-makers will forget the horrors of 2020 and remember (with smiles and glee), the happy times they experienced in 2019 and earlier. Unfortunately, with this belief at the forefront of their minds, executives are doing very little to make changes in their 2019 inventory and even newly opened hotels are not integrating innovative strategies, technology, anti-microbial fabrics and materials into their operations that could address and ameliorate the health and safety fears of wannabe travelers.
Author Laura Spinney (Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World), found, “If you look back over history, our tendency as human beings has been to forget pandemics as soon as they’ve passed. We cycle through complacent and panic. We panic when the pandemic erupts, then we forget about it, go back to complacency, and we don’t take the necessary steps to ensure we will be better prepared next time.”
A December 2020 study, Coronavirus Travel Sentiment Index Report, found that consumer sentiment about travel has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and attitude towards travel is split between readiness and hesitation with half of Americans not quite ready to leave the comfort of their couch and dust off their passports. Research conducted during the week of December 14, 2020 determined that 55 percent of the Americans surveyed had guilty feelings about travel “right now,” with 50 percent losing all interest in travel “for the time being.” Almost six in 10 (58 percent) believed travel should be limited, exclusively, to essential needs with 50 percent determining that travelers should not come to their communities, “right now.” Motivation to travel is being moved to Q2 of 2021 with 2/3 of Americans finding that the current pandemic makes them less likely to travel over the next three months. The vaccine option is having a positive effect and 50 percent of Americans feel that the vaccine is making them more optimistic in regard to safe travel (ustravel.org).