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Is there a hidden opportunity in domestic travels for destinations?

In Covid19, there have been a lot of discussions about destinations and the future development. Most destinations want to have sustainability at the heart of their strategy. Travel and tourism are and will be important contribution to economy of many destinations whether it be countries, regions, or cities. Therefore, while there is a restriction on international travels, many destinations look now towards their domestic market - many for the first time perhaps. Destinations like e.g. Iceland, New Zealand, UK and Estonia are all putting marketing efforts in that direction. But might there be a hidden opportunity in domestic travels for destinations?

Volume of domestic travels The importance of international and domestic travelers varies between destinations. In Iceland, the population is about 350.000 with about 2 million travelers a year. Despite 90% of Icelanders say that they will travel domestically this summer they will not make up for the loss of the 2 million international travelers a year. It might, however, be a different story for other countries, e.g. in New Zealand where 60% are domestic travels. The volume of travelers is however not the opportunity that I am looking for today.

Sustainability and stakeholders Sustainability in tourism is about making low impact on the environment and local culture as well as ensure that development of tourism is a positive experience for local people, the industry as well as for travelers – both domestic and international. The three pillars: environment, social and economic and the SDG goals are to be worked with in a structured way to be able to reach these goals. In order, for this to happen a good relationship and discussion with stakeholders is of importance.

In a relationship with stakeholders, the questions of core values and the development of the destination as a place to visit, live and work, are vital. Conversations on the infrastructure, experience, products, services, and hospitality that should be on offer to fulfill the identity and the image of the destination are a part of the development towards a sustainable destination.

In my opinion, domestic travelers have not really been a part of this equation. We talk a lot about stakeholders to be local people, the industry, and international travelers. But how do local people want to be travelers in their own country, region, or city? As an example, in Iceland for the last few years in the spirit of sustainability the focus has been on international travelers to travel all year around, to all regions. Hardly any focus has been on Icelanders to do the same or creating offers or service that suits them. Until now in Covid19, when offers and product development is basically blooming around the country for them.

Storytellers of destinations In the past, international travelers and local people have been popular storytellers of destinations especially through social media. Sharing local stories of the destinations, the experience and what the destination has to offer. With this they have been important part of the development of the destinations. We can argue at times that local people are sometimes also the domestic traveler – however most local people that are sharing their story are already in tourism or related industries.

Overtourism One of the signs of overtourism is the negativity of local people towards the tourism industry and travelers. This can sometimes be because of lack of conversation with local people and stakeholders about what kind of destination they want their country, region or city to be and what should be on offer.

This summer domestic travelers will likely see their destinations in a quieter way, perhaps go back to the roots a bit. They will be able to wonder what kind of a destinations they want their country, region or city to be in the future. As unlike international travelers – domestic travelers usually know their surroundings, distances, and culture well and they (at least in Iceland) have an opinion on how they want their destination to develop – as this is the place they will live and work in the future.

Harnessing the power of the domestic traveler It is here where I get to my point. I think the hidden opportunity lies in harnessing the power of the domestic traveler – to be a part of the equation. To create a platform to share and tell the story about the destination with the eye of the domestic traveler (in English or other languages) – as who should be better and has more of an opinion on the sustainable development and responsible travel behavior than the people that live and work in that destination? Who knows more about local culture and respecting the environment? If there is a platform to show how the domestic are travelling, it both creates certain authenticity but also understanding of what kind of destination it is, its core values and how to respect it.

Positive impact on sustainability This would therefore be positive for both domestic and international travelers to get to get know the destination better, and for the destination developers to understand and work better with stakeholders. Not the least for the domestic travelers to be more satisfied by taking more part in the development and the storytelling of their own country – and with that have a positive mediated effect with sustainability and responsibility at heart. As I think domestic travelers will tell the good and interesting story, the story they want to be told and in line with how they want their destination to develop for the future – as this is a place that they live and work, their nature and environment, their society and their economy. They will tell the story of the places and experience they want to share with the world.

What do you think? Is this a hidden opportunity for positive development and changes for destinations after Covid19? Can domestic travelers have a positive influence on the development towards sustainability for destinations? Are destinations already thinking in this direction or have they already been doing that in the past?

This article was published on LinkedIn 29th May 2020

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