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Tourism of Tomorrow 2021: Takeaways from ACT’s online conference

Tourism of Tomorrow 2021: Takeaways from ACT’s online conference

Greece is a strong competitor in the market, Greek tourism in particular will likely achieve its record 2019 numbers after the end of 2023 and into 2024, and we’re looking at returning to “business as usual” by 2023; these were some of the takeaways from the 4th Tourism of Tomorrow Conference, organized by ACT’s Hospitality & Tourism program on April 24, 2021.

“Building Resilience Through Disruption” was this year’s main topic, as the conference was offered exclusively online, with the participation of various organizations, tourism and hospitality companies, educational institutions, and consulting companies from Greece and abroad. In his welcoming speech, Dr Panos Vlachos, President of Anatolia College, stressed that “despite the disruption that this pandemic has brought upon us, ACT has managed to stay active and oriented towards programs such as its tourism program, that continue to prepare the workforce and leaders of tomorrow in the industry. The future of tourism might not be clear, but there are certainly great opportunities ahead for growth. We hope this knowledge we share – and this conference is the perfect example – will lead us to the growth we expect.”

“Greece is a strong competitor in the market”

Keynote speaker Dr. Christos Cabolis, Chief Economist at the IMD World Competitiveness Center, linked the recovery of the tourism industry to the competitive advantage of Greece and especially its economic profile, reminding us that “our country belongs to the European core, and is one of only eight EU economies with a population of about 10 million, rich in terms of GDP, that has adopted the euro and has been a member of the EU since 1981.” These characteristics pave the path for a tourism boom, its revenue representing 10% of Greece’s GDP. As for relative indexes, Greece places 9th among 63 countries in the World Bank list and 2nd in Europe in terms of ease and speed when founding a new business. On the same list, Greece is 26th in available specialized engineers, a placement that suggests there is a relative trend in available human resources for the tourism industry. It is also optimistic how the government has adapted to the changes the pandemic brought to the economy, and that Greeks are unfazed by the fear of failure when it comes to their business ventures. According to Dr. Cabolis, Greece needs improvement in the areas of e-government, cybersecurity, protection against software piracy, the use of big data, and data analysis. Dr. Cabolis also mentioned the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Tourism Recovery Tracker which records a universal sense of optimism for the recovery of travel and tourism.

“Business as usual after 2023”

Things are still fluid, marked Andreas Scriven, Lead Partner of Hospitality & Leisure at Deloitte, as the markets that feed Greek tourism (such as Germany, the UK, Italy, and France) seem reluctant and their citizens have been limiting air travel and hotel stays within the next three months – a percentage that is below 20% in most markets. On the other hand, indexes show signs of improvement, placing most countries in a positive trajectory. The pandemic sped up changes that had been brewing in previous years, but also brought about other changes that are here to stay. According to this speaker, international business travel will survive. The booking process will become seamless, most restaurants will retain their pick-up service, planning a trip will take on a more modern and careful approach, and the biz-leisure trend will shape a new traveler persona. “Safety will continue to be a primary concern” underlined Mr. Scriven, estimating that 2023 will be the year when tourism will go back to “business as usual”. The business model will also undergo changes, as we are expecting new financial deals between property owners and managers.

“Multisite events are an opportunity for new hotel businesses”

Matthias Schultze, Managing Director of the German Convention Bureau (GCB) talked about reshaping conference tourism. Europe covers 52.5% of conference tourism in the world, with Germany holding the lion’s share with 424 million travelers in 2019. Research by Oxford University has shown that vaccinations, detection test strategies, as well as official travel guidelines, will factor in as the industry awaits its restart, also taking into consideration our previous experience with world crises such as September 11th and the economic crisis. The most realistic scenario according to research shows that 2024 will be the year we fully return to new normalcy, with qualitative and quantitative changes, hybrid events that will combine the physical presence of just a few conference attendees with the ability of simultaneous, remote attendance over the internet. “It is an opportunity for hotels to offer high-tech services to their clients and guests, as well as offer multisite conferences”, he noted.

“The Greek National Tourism Organization’s latest campaign puts an emphasis on emotion”

The assessment that Greek tourism will prove quite resilient to the pandemic, with the prospect of reaching 2019 levels from the end of 2023 and gradually towards 2024, was expressed by Yiannis Tsakalos, CEO of AQ Strategy. 2021 is expected to be a difficult year, he said, with tourism figures expected to be around 40-50% of 2019 numbers. During his speech, Mr. Tsakalos briefly presented the strategy behind the latest Greek National Tourism Organization campaign, developed by Ogilvy and AQ Strategy, around the central message “All you want is Greece.” The new campaign puts a strong emphasis on emotion, “as people for the first time around the world experienced the same feeling: staying at home and in lockdown, the sense of monotony and routine. What is it that we want? To be in the sun, to relax, to go out. What is it that we missed? Everything. Drinking a glass of wine with friends, being in touch with people and nature, the sea, the freedom, new tastes, art. All of the things that we’ve been missing and all of that we are looking for is found in Greece. All you want is Greece. That was our campaign’s rationale”, explained Mr. Tsakalos. Within this concept “sea and sun” give way to “experience” through gastronomy, wine, art, history, outdoor activities, and wellness, linking tourism to society and nature. “Our first challenge is placing man at the epicenter of our story. The second challenge is to build a sustainable model of tourism development”, stressed the CEO of AQ Strategy.

“Sustainability, the environment, and society are priorities for travelers”

Sustainability, this strong trend that had surfaced well before the pandemic, is now a priority for travelers, underlined Eleni Andreadis, Head of Sustainability at Sani & Ikos Resorts. 82% of tourists want to travel to sustainable destinations, and younger generations consider it a priority to protect the environment. Meanwhile, sustainability can become a way to strengthen hotels, according to Ms. Andreadis. “Major hotel chains have renewed their commitment towards proper waste management, use of plastics, energy-saving, even changing working conditions for the benefit of employees”, mentioned Ms. Andreadis. A characteristic example is that of Sani Green, the sustainability program that has been running for over 13 years across the Sani resort and has produced tangible results as plastic use recorded an 80% reduction; it also helps preserve the resort’s wetlands, supports the local community, and also facilitates new initiatives regarding the use of renewable energy, and water and waste management. “People expect hotels to be acting as a force for good in the local community. Perhaps the pandemic will give everyone the time and opportunity to redesign their operation under this concept. If you have a plan and a timeline, you can also have access to funding”, stressed Ms. Andreadis. As for bookings “demand is huge” she mentioned. “Bookings are approaching 2019 numbers but we’re still waiting. It is most likely that a flow of guests will be restored in November or December of 2021, as long as nothing unexpected takes place.”

“The future is looking bright, the present is uncertain”

Tim Ananiadis, a hospitality executive and business leader, didn’t hide his concerns regarding the present situation in an industry that is struggling to survive, as tourism is expected to remain at marginal profits for a second consecutive year. “The tourism industry needs to survive before we can talk about its future”, he said. What is really troubling for Mr. Ananiadis is the fact that Greek tourism is dependent on other countries and the various guidelines issued. In terms of sustainability, Mr. Ananiadis said that “we need to define it, so that it is something tangible for everyone involved. Or else it’s meaningless. Sustainability requires capital, commitment, research, specialization, it is questionable how companies with financial trouble can adopt sustainability.” Based on personal experience, he was surprised to see that “guests are not that concerned with health and safety hotel protocols’ and that “those who travel do so with the relevant risk involved. Last year saw tourists trapped in their destination due to changes in imposed travel measures. All these things are beyond our control. We need to be informed and our clients need to be aware of travel conditions.” Another thing he realized was that the time guests spend in hotels has been extended because of their fear of public spaces. It is our priority to “recognize and realize the wants and mentality of the younger generation, as guests nowadays don’t always want the same things.”

Planning for the future we envision with today’s needs

Dr. Angeliki Kosmopoulou, Executive Director of the A.C. Laskaridis Charitable Foundation and Vice President of the Greek National Tourism Organization, stressed that currently, we are all operating with informed suspicions. “Many Greek islands have no accommodation available at this point as all pre-bookings have been made. We see a great interest by travelers to visit, but they need to be allowed to travel.” In any case “it is time for strategic thinking and for us to redesign the tourism industry based on the vision we have for tomorrow with the needs that we have today, which is difficult by definition.” Dr. Kosmopoulou described sustainability as a necessity and part of the tourism product design. “It makes no sense to simply talk about sustainability just to sound pretty. We need to go back to the basics: make the necessary preparations in our country, investigate whether we have the infrastructure needed for recycling, measure the impact of pollution.”

Education as a barometer for the industry

Tarek Kouatly, Director of Marketing & Development – Asia Pacific for the Swiss Education Group, talked about training tourism executives. “In Switzerland, we use a survey conducted among 200 companies as a barometer to tailor our curricula accordingly”, said Mr. Kouatly. “Our survey has shown that people will continue to fear, be it post-traumatic shock or a new pandemic looming. What is certain is that we will not be returning to how things were pre-pandemic.” The representative of the Swiss Education Group, an educational organization considered a leader in the world, noted that “it is very important to maintain a high quality in our human resources and our work, as that is what tomorrow’s employees and industry leaders are being trained for. He emphasized the need to create incentives so that Gen-Zers – among them 24-year-olds – “can work in the tourism industry as permanent and not seasonal staff.” One problem that was highlighted by this survey was that new employees tend to receive more credit from guests than from their employers.”  

Nikos Sapountzis, CEO & Marketing Strategist of Tourism Plus was the conference moderator, while Dr. Nikos Hourvouliades, Chair of ACT’s Business School, and Anestis Anastasiou, Coordinator of the ACT Tourism and Hospitality program, also made their remarks.

You can watch the conference on ACT’s YouTube channel.

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