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What is Tourism Resilience According to WTTC?

Enhancing Resilience

Puerto Rico sets the scene in a brand new released WTTC study entitled Enhancing Resilience to drive sustainability in a destination.

Puerto Rico sets the scene in a brand new released WTTC study entitled.

“Enhancing Resilience to drive sustainability in a destination”

Although the academic literature around resilience in a tourism or destination context remains in its infancy, the concept is comparable to what makes a person resilient.

When a child is considered ‘resilient’, it typically means that they have a strong capacity for withstanding adventure, crises, or traumas and to grow stronger through adaption, learning, and dealing with risk in their stride.

The phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is also relevant, as it introduces the temporal aspect that starts to tie the concept of resilience in the face of one-off or repeated shocks, to the idea of progress over time, and thus to the longer-term
concept of sustainability.

The focus is neither the academic definition of resilience or
sustainability in destinations, nor the theoretical frameworks for building resilience, but rather the practical actions on the ground. It describes specific things destinations can do, and are already doing, to learn from recent and ongoing stress and shock events, to prepare for the next catastrophic event, and ensure the
long-term sustainability of their evolving tourism activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is without question one of the most significant global shocks to Travel & Tourism since the World Wars of the twentieth century.

While global GDP declined 3.3% in 2020 relative to the previous year, Travel & Tourism related GDP declined over 50.4% in the same period and is not forecast to return to 2019 levels before 2023. Over 60 million Travel & Tourism jobs were lost, and billions of trips were not taken, and many destinations only began their restart and recovery in early 2022.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not the first major shock that has rocked destinations, their inhabitants, and their wider stakeholders. Natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and health
scares, among others, have taught valuable lessons and caused destinations to adapt their offerings, their operations, and
their governance models. The rapid variability of climate also continues to be a growing threat for disruption to Travel &

Through a series of in-depth interviews and a review of recent tourism and resilience literature, the following framework
of resilience dimensions for destinations has been compiled.

These dimensions are brought to life with case studies from
the destinations themselves. While every destination and every shock is unique, there are lessons that can be shared and
best practices that can be adapted, in order to help ensure that all destinations can increase their resilience and ensure a smoother path towards sustainable development.

Defining and linking resilience and sustainability

At the heart of both resilience and sustainability is risk or uncertainty. Destinations, policymakers, businesses, and travelers
continuously make decisions based on assessments of hazards and resulting risks.

Sometimes these are relatively well-known and well-understood (for example, the likelihood that the weather will be warm and sunny in Majorca in July) but other times they are not (for example, the chances of a terrorist attack in central London).

While sustainability, broadly speaking, is about ensuring unending prosperity, resilience is the concept of managing those
stresses, shocks, or events which may or may not have been predicted, but which result in conditions far outside the
‘normal’ or ‘business as usual conditions at a destination.

The stresses are typically considered ongoing in nature – for
example, recurrent loss of water or energy supply, while shocks are typically short-term and sudden in nature, such as a
hurricane or flood, but recovery and resetting towards a ‘new normal’ can take weeks, months, or even years in some cases,
especially when the shocks are compounded or cascading.

Is resilience a prerequisite for sustainability? And vice versa?

The direction from resilience to sustainability is clearer cut than the other way round – without resilience, achieving sustainable tourism or sustainable development goals will become virtually impossible. As extreme weather events become more common, political instability continues to ebb and flow, and pandemics are widely predicted to become more prevalent, progressing towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require ever greater adaptive capacity.

How are destinations addressing resilience priorities?

In preparing this report, tourism officials and leaders in a diverse range of destinations were interviewed – from deserts
to islands and from cities to beach communities. When asked what resilience meant to their destination, tourism leaders
shared diverse answers. Some common responses included:
• Maintaining Travel & Tourism jobs in the face of travel shut-downs.
• Swiftly adapting to new visitor markets to keep hotel occupancy high.
• Implementing effective processes for responding to natural disasters protecting local populations and natural assets,
and reopening for tourism as soon as it is safe to do so.
• Ensuring community involvement in tourism activities to build greater connection and information flow.
Not surprisingly, the different priorities were informed and influenced by recent experiences in each destination, which
have varied according to location, climate, visitor mix, reliance on Travel & Tourism as an economic driver, political vision, visitor typology, and Travel & Tourism prioritization.

Destinations most exposed to climate risk and extreme weather will most typically focus on environmental and infrastructure themes in destination resilience. Those with a high reliance on tourism receipts tend to focus on economic and social resilience, particularly the ability of the destination, its businesses, and its workforce to quickly pivot in case of shocks.

Destinations that experience seasonal or concentrated demand tend to focus more on finding a balance between visitor and resident value to ensure social acceptance of Travel & Tourism.
All destinations have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted both the value of Travel & Tourism
and the risks inherent in over-reliance without flexibility.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) today published a new report on practical guidelines and case studies to support destinations in becoming more resilient and sustainable at its Sustainability and Investment Forum taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

At WTTC 2021 Manila summit in April 2022, WTTC announced  ‘Hotel Sustainability Basics’,

Click here to download the full WTTC report (PDF) featuring the Puerto Rico case study.

About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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