Denby Fawcett: Hawaii Tourism Wants To Turn into Smarter
Hawaii welcomed more than 10,120 travelers Thursday to the launch of the state’s new program to allow visitors with negative COVID-19 tests to skip the quarantine.
Now that travel is slowly returning, it is time for Hawaii to create a new tourism model for a changed world of travel that will benefit both tourists and the local community.
The World Travel and Tourism Council in its new tourism recovery study found that shutdowns around the world have made people think more about what they want in their lives, including what to expect from travel now. WTTC’s new study, published last month, is titled “The Future of Travel and Tourism Post Covid-19”.
“From widespread unemployment and anti-racism movements to the restoration of natural habitats to the impact on ecosystems,” says WTTC, “the world has been revitalized to address social, environmental and institutional sustainability.”
The heightened awareness also extends to tourism, which longs for safer travel and needs to do more than just travel entertainment, but also treat the local environment and people with more respect.
Watching natural environments rebound in the absence of people during lockdown has made many people aware of the amount of damage that has been done to places just visiting.
The WTTC report states that there is a desire for greener tourism and ecotourism that also takes into account the needs of tourism workers in the visited community.
While it is cynical, Machiavelli’s famous quote is true: “Never waste the opportunity that a good crisis presents.” The opportunity is here to change the way we do tourism.
No one is looking forward to a repeat of 2019 when a whopping 10.4 million visitors came to Hawaii, frustrating residents by commanding their favorite beaches and trails, huddling at popular island restaurants, and disrupting quiet residential neighborhoods while staying in illegal vacation rentals romped about.
In the wake of the economic devastation of the pandemic, travel experts say the same annual influx of 10.4 million tourists will not recur for a long time, perhaps never if the state really weans itself from tourism as the main economic driver.
Meanwhile, travel experts across the world as well as Hawaii are examining the coronavirus crisis possibilities to make the global travel industry greener, cleaner, smarter and more responsive to social issues like economic inequality and environmental degradation.
Longtime Hawaii travel expert Frank Haas is writing his own report to consider how visitors’ new travel expectations can be met.
Haas is a former vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Tourism Authority and co-author of the study “Can Hawaii Rise From Covid-19 As A Smart Destination?”
According to the WTTC report and Haas, here’s what travelers expect in the next few years.
Flexibility and security
In the WTTC report, 70% of North American vacation travelers said they would book travel during the pandemic if they were assured that there would be no penalties for changing their plans.
Travelers are expected to be given more flexibility regarding the uncertainty of the pandemic, a twilight period that is expected to extend for at least another year, possibly two years.
Almost 70% of respondents said that cleanliness is critical to their comfort when traveling.
It is expected that intensive attention to health and the prevention of germs will continue even when a vaccine is widely available.
One thing that is good for Hawaii, according to the WTTC report, is that travelers now want to go to places they already know during the pandemic.
“The preferred behavior of travelers has shifted towards familiar, predictable and trustworthy, domestic and regional vacations and the outdoors.”
I understand this to mean that visitors who are now returning to the islands are here because they feel safe and know that they can easily find their way around instead of venturing to lesser-known destinations in Europe and Asia.
On top of that, US citizens, with our country’s high infection rate, are still prohibited from traveling to a long list of countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the nations of the European Union, and Japan.
The WTTC report said during the pandemic: “Transparent communication is becoming increasingly important for travelers in order to stimulate demand.”
It states: “Full communication and the flow of accurate information between travelers and employees, companies and suppliers, and visitors and local communities will be a leading engine for the recovery of the sector.”
Communication and technology
Hawaii is weak there. Communication with travelers and residents during the pandemic was jumbled and sometimes unresponsive.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s reopening, tourists and returning residents grappled with confusing information about where to test and what testing requirements were different for neighboring islands.
In a newspaper article, freelance writer Erick Bengel wrote that he had tried unsuccessfully for two days to call someone at the Hawaii Safe Travels Service Desk – a desk that promised to return calls the next business day. Nobody ever called him back.
Haas and the WTTC report both emphasize the huge role that technology will play in the future in making visitors feel safe, by offering them touchless travel, among other things.
Contactless travel means using smartphones to perform functions that are normally required for personal contact.
WTTC says that during all the lockdowns, people around the world became increasingly comfortable and dependent on the internet and learned to use new platforms on their phones and computers for many aspects of their lives.
Now they will expect to use technology applications as an important part of travel comfort and safety.
They are interested in contactless travel to avoid infection, check in with their smartphones at the hotel reception, call the elevator and get to their hotel room without touching a key.
Telephones are now also routinely used for touchless transactions, e.g. B. as boarding passes for planes, when shopping and in restaurants, to read menus and pay for meals.
In the WTTC report, almost half (45%) of travelers said they were ready to move from paper passports to digital identities.
“The pandemic has made contactless technology more important than ever,” says Haas.
The changes were always on the horizon, but the pandemic has accelerated its development and use.
WTTC researchers say that smart technologies in all areas of tourism and travel not only require increased cybersecurity, but also need to improve the skills of travel and tourism professionals to become familiar with the new systems.
According to the WTTC, 68% of the workforce worldwide will need retraining to become familiar with changing technology.
In the report he writes, Haas wonders if there should be a new chief technology officer with the Hawaii Tourism Authority or the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to focus on the need.
He also sees this as a new opportunity in technology training for travel for the University of Hawaii.
The University of Central Florida already has a travel technology and analytics program.
According to Haas, the UH could set up its own intelligent travel program and help other countries meet the new requirements for technology applications in tourism.
Executives already helping Hawaii’s hotel workers hone their skills fear that the rise in technology in hotels could displace more workers than they are driving.
“It’s nice to talk about improving the technological skills of hotel workers, but you can’t discuss that without talking about the jobs that are already obsolete because of technology,” said James Hardway.
Hardway is the executive director of the Hotel and Restaurant Employment Training Trust Fund, funded by Local 5, the Hotel Workers’ Union, to teach workers new skills and improve their existing skills.
Going forward, the technology will also help better manage and distribute the crowd by helping visitors make online pre-reservations and prepayments for many popular attractions.
Future travelers are expected to be more willing to accept new requests for reservations as they help them maintain physical distance.
They may not be able to go to an attraction exactly when they want, but at least when they arrive they won’t get hit against other people.
And pre-reservations give local residents a better chance of returning to their favorite spots that they began to avoid due to tourist mobs.
This may seem overly optimistic, but if done with a creative spirit, a new tourism plan to meet the challenges of the pandemic and beyond could make Hawaii better for tourists and residents alike.
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