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Tourism, Unpredictably Changed, How to Prepare for Season 2021?

A UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization)  Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of respondents (45%) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while 25% expect a similar performance and 30% foresee a worsening of results in 2021.The overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened. 50% of respondents now expect a rebound to occur only in 2022 as compared to 21% in October 2020. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound in 2021.As and when tourism does restart, the UNWTO Panel of Experts foresee growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences gaining increasing interest. 

Since the results are gathered from a global level, meaning that many external factors for each individual country play an important role, it is hard to assume when doing a more detailed analysis how exactly the tourism rebound will occur in each country.

Moving on to European countries, the graph and estimates look more optimistic as most believe that in the second half of 2021 we can see a rebound in tourism, although possible, further lockdowns and economic disbalance in a lot of countries can further complicate the already complicated situation meaning it is hard to assume yet what the outcome will be. 

Travel personas and trends will change drastically from pre-covid times.

Tourists will likely be :

  • more aware of the surroundings and will be technologically driven when choosing        destinations,
  • outdoor and adventure tourism will likely see an increase in visitors, 
  • but also the so called “workations” will be more present as workplaces are being digitized

The new travel trends has enabled countries to implement creative solutions to promote tourism which will likely be in place till at least 2022.

The first ones to travel

The respondents in the research for international demand for Macedonia as a destination, conducted by Gorazd Skrt,  shows that “impatient travelers”are the category that will be most important for the renewal of tourism towards the Balkans and North Macedonia. They are – in their opinion – the most important category, as they will be the trendsetters, followed by guests with safety precautions.

The experts of tourism agencies believe that it will be most difficult to convince the non-risk-taking travelers, as in their opinion the Balkans is not synonymous with an extremely efficient and secure health system.  The respondents rate the importance of individuals higher than that of groups in the post-Covid period. Nevertheless, they believe that groups will remain an important factor in post-pandemic tourism.

Factors preventing tourists to travel in the pandemic of COVID-19

It is interesting to note that the main reasons tour operators  gave for discouraging their guests from travelling are not fear of contracting the virus (14%), but government restrictions (30%) and hotel closures (30%), followed by fear of cancellations once the trip is booked (16%) and poor flight connections (10%). Fear of the pandemics is not the main reason preventing agencies from organizing travel. More important is the fear that the trip cannot be made because of measures and precautions taken at the destination.

North Macedonia is one of the most open countries in the world in times of writing this report. There is no requirement for PCR test and quarantine measures are not in force for arrivals. This is not the case with the home countries who in fact will enforce quarantine for their citizens when coming back home.

Support from the Government 

The Minister of Economics of Macedonia has stated that the effects of the travel voucher were positive. Almost 62,000 travel vouchers were used in 2020, which directly supported the Macedonian travel industry. Because of that, the government has decided to allocate an additional 15 million mkd (about 245,000 euros) to be used for more vouchers in 2021.

However, the new vouchers will have new and different requirements in order to qualify for one.The government paid 150 registered travel guides a salary for the months of october, november and december. Total funds allocated for this total 160,000 euros. 

The Government will give back around 2 million euros to companies which rent rooms/apartments. The money given back is from the tourist tax paid to the government by these companies in the year 2019. Additionally, the government has extended the validity of licenses required to operate of companies in the hospitality and travel sectors.

The Ministry of Economy  has set up a fund, currently consisting of 95 million mkd (about 1,548,000 euros), which will be used to help the travel industry to rebound from the crisis. This fund will be made available when the current crisis caused by Covid-19 passes. 

Turning point of pandemic

The turning point and the revival of tourism is expected  with the vaccination (56%), especially in combination with the testing (25%). Tour agents believe that safety measures will still remain necessary for travelling in next years.

The volume of travel during COVID19 crisis

Local travellers are considered extremely important after the Covid period. They are followed by travellers from neighbouring countries, from ex-Yugoslav countries, from European countries. Tour Operators are sceptical about the return of overseas travellers in the next few years.

The travelers who will save North Macedonian tourism in the coming years will be domestic travelers and those from neighboring countries. The industry  has no doubt that the travelers who will save North Macedonian tourism in the coming years will be domestic travelers and those from neighboring countries.

A matter of debate is the importance of diaspora travelers. Agents who work with them say that the first generation – those who still know their home country very well – tend not to book through the agency. But there is potential among members of the second and third generations who want to discover the homeland of their ancestors.

What each of us can do to help. And HOW?

Travel Agencies can become advocates of health systems abroad. This means that despite the valuable information about each destination travel agencies are promoting in their itineraries, nowadays they have to have exact and correct information of COVID-19 updates. This is a bilten that changes on a daily level and is something that needs to be provided by the chambers of commerce or association to all members, as fake news and information bias should be avoided. 2021 will see travel agents become the fountains of all knowledge, news and safety policies, rebooking etc. 40% of global travelers expect their travel agents to be on hand to problem solve and provide more recommendations. With a considerable amount of uncertainty and quarantine rules changing weekly, opportunities for travel agents to become invaluable and irreplaceable sources of information abound.

In times of pandemics, there are tremendous opportunities to strengthen ties with their business partners simply by communicating with them.

The pandemic does not mean that customers are no longer interested in business. Relevant updates about the current work and situation help maintain a community that the business depends on. It is necessary to ensure that important information and updates about operations are provided in a timely manner

Tourist agencies expect to communicate with their business partners during the pandemic. On the one hand, they want to stay in touch with their partners to feel that they are still “alive”. On the other hand, they want to use this time for the development of new products.

Hotels can prepare for health safety reviews on all sales platforms, including their own web site. Travelers would like to review the stamp they have put on their door, claiming a level of safety and protocols in place which appears to be the same like with hygiene and other criteria for rating a stay. Hotels need to prepare for outstanding clients. According to the respondents, there were several observations that in some cases the stars of the hotels in North Macedonia do not correspond to the actual quality. They believe hotels in North Macedonia are of slightly lower category than hotels of the same category in Western Europe. Respondents indicated that they do not request 2-star or 1-star hotels. They do not seem to meet the needs of the guests. They indicated that they like to choose for their clients small hotels of higher category, something like art or boutique hotels – or accommodations that are different, special and unique.

The speed restaurants adapt to the crisis is due to their creativity and their attention to the needs and habits of consumers. These consumers prefer:sufficient offer of meeting rooms,more affordable prices,temperature measuring tablets,entrance masks,quality disinfectant, glass borders for higher protection,a counter that shows the availability of seats in the hall, properly marked places for sitting / standing after protocol, air purifier.

Tour Guides/ Instructors in outdoor activities should think of promotions and offer free trials of adventure tours for hikers, bikers, climbers, water sports etc.especially having in mind that Macedoinans remain the main volume of customers. Since they do not have a channel to do this, a development project can organize access to a campaign.  Tour-guides should be able to promote themselves directly. This means travel agencies will not be able to sell them for this channel. Domestic explorers come around, check what they can find, and the rest is word of mouth. Tour Guides need to be visible to guests physically in the destination or online via Macedonian channels (Grouper, Facebook, Instagram and Viber). Education for marketing to platforms like Expedia, Tripadvisor and Viator, will pay off even when international travelers come back. Ireland and Portugal have developed online training programmes, workshops, webinars and networking meet-ups online, addressed to help businesses navigate the effects of COVID-19 and provide advice for employers impacted by the crisis, with special attention to the digital transformation and the need to upgrade digital skills

Chambers of Tourism, both Incoming and Outgoing , create regional campaigns with neighboring countries. Green zones for mutual support of health systems, exclusion of PCR test requests and even quarantines, may be created and supported this year. Macedonia, Albania. Serbia and Kosovo are interested in such an agreement. If this is a case, offers should be promoted digitally in neighboring countries, in their mother language welcoming our neighbours for a visit. Their outgoing travel agencies should be contacted for support and fam trips.  Macedonian incoming travel agencies are not in this value chain, as this rather shorter value chain. If we take the examples of Macedonians visiting Albania and Serbia in organized trips, one can notice why regional outgoing agencies are so important for Macedonian markets. Another key point, regional influencers should be invited for a fam trip.

National Parks will be faced with  the year with the most visits. Families, individuals, backpackers and even office people who never really liked the mountain would now consider it for a vacation. Series of preparation for picnic sites, ranger led tours, brochure for safety in the mountain, biodiversity and botanical tours should be prepared. 

Macedonians like never before became nature explorative about their birth country and in the same time nurturing towards nature. Never before so many Macedonians appeared on free ride tours, horseback riding tours or hiking trails. Mountain biking trails became crowded on slopes close to Skopje. 

Tour guides and rental of equipment should offer free trials of adventure tours for hikers, bikers, climbers, water sports etc.especially having in mind that Macedoinans remain the main volume of customers for 2021. Since they do not have a channel to do this, a development project can organize access to a campaign.  

Municipalities can roll up sleeves to  work on local product development for covid resistant offer i.e. Adventure Travel. If Government creates another #Domasiedoma social media campaign , municipalities need to support it with local listing of concrete offers. This way the local offer of private accommodation and outdoor sites can be visible and manageable after the season, possibly with any destination management model. The local development projects can help with capacity building for destination management on both sides – municipalities and government. In times when domestic incoming agencies are not bringing any tourists, the local suppliers should do it in a d2c model, on their own. 

Government – vouchers should integrate agency, hotel, rental of equipment, museums and guides. Also any other form of integrative offer should be stimulated if this is complicated to be realized. It seems that restaurants do not need promotion. Once the restrictions are taken off,they are automatically filled in. However the connection of a hotel with a tour guide or a transporting company is very important, as they are left out . 

Safety stamps can be brought through WTTC. Together with, governments, health experts and other industry associations are working together to achieve effective recovery protocols by developing meaningful action plans that optimize sector-wide recovery efforts. The specially designed stamp will allow travelers to recognize governments and companies around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardized protocols – so consumers can experience ‘Safe Travels’. Eligible companies such as hotels, restaurants, airlines, cruise lines, tour operators, attractions, short term rentals, car rentals, outdoor shopping, transportation and airports, will be able to use the stamp once the health and hygiene protocols, outlined by WTTC, have been implemented. However, the proper use of the protocols and the review for the shape the host is in, can only be left to visitors.

The first sign of recovery

By definition, recovery is the act or process of becoming healthy after an illness or injury  or process of returning to a normal state after a period of difficulty, the return of something that has been lost, stolen, etc. 

Just like the damaging condition of contacting the virus to a body, the economy itself suffers in the same analogy of events. The system that seems less developed, suffers first and recovers last. Travel agencies for incoming tourism were the less developed chain in the value chain and would need most time to come back. Whoever gets first back on feet will be the one to pull up the entire value chain back. And my first pick, for that role are hotels and accommodation, then restaurants, then transporting companies and last travel agencies. 

Have you considered which group you can join? Take a pick, roll up your sleeves and help 2021 get a decent season to survive with. 


*Findings are excluded from a paid research study for IME and SIPPO, SDC  funded programmes in North Macedonia

Elena Ivanova

Management consultant with strong business empathy and empirical knowledge in sustainable development. Creates business models that strengthen inclusive markets and deliver a positive impact. . Dynamic and analytical opportunity seeker, driven by the customer's needs and the company's growth potential. Consider me to collaborate as a certified professional with a focus on resource planning, organizational restructuring, and change management.