In addition to the severe effects of Covid-19 on the global economy, the sociocultural impacts of Covid-19 also pose many challenges to the tourism sector, especially cultural tourism.
Restrictions, quarantine and social distancing have caused more than 90% of countries around the world to close their UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of which are especially significant to humanity. This also affects the livelihoods of millions of people, including cultural professionals and staff at these destinations.
Tourism and culture have a close relationship and can support each other’s recovery in the context of Covid-19, so by the end of 2020 UNWTO collaborated with UNESCO to release the UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide – Sociocultural Impacts of Covid-19, with the Issue 2: Cultural Tourism released in February 2021.
Assessing the sociocultural impacts of Covid-19 as well as the cultural tourism responses to the pandemic, UNWTO pointed out changes in the approach of cultural tourists as well as of the cultural destinations around the world. Cities are the first and most heavily affected destinations by the pandemic. However, many cities with developed cultural tourism have come up with innovative ideas to help tourists experience culture in the Covid-19 context. In addition, when tourists around the world were unable to travel, they also started looking for cultural experiences on online platforms from their homes.
From these changes, in Issue 2: Cultural Tourism of UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide – Sociocultural Impacts of Covid-19, the organization give some recommendations for the responsible restart of cultural tourism:
Promoting synergies to strengthen the future of cultural tourism
UNWTO emphasizes cooperation between culture and tourism to exchange and learn good practices from each other, enhance safety measures and find joint approaches complying with Covid-related regulations to help improve tourists’ confidence. In addition, UNWTO also mentioned the collaboration between artists, cultural experts, local communities, the private sector and DMOs to have a shared vision for development and enhance the competitiveness of the cultural destination.
Supporting the development of culture in destinations
For cultural destinations, cultural products and experiences are the competitive advantages and the core of marketing strategies. Therefore, enhancing the role of culture in a destination reinforces the development of tourism in that locality. In the context of limited international tourism, UNWTO encourages cultural destinations to shift their focus to domestic tourists and local communities, diversify cultural tourism experiences and inspire domestic tourists to rediscover their local culture, heritage and creative industries.
Strengthening the revival of urban and rural experiences
Urban tourism can be promoted through culture, by leveraging the local creative and cultural diversity to boost entrepreneurship and innovation and attract investment. In addition, during this time, rural tourism should also be promoted because it is favorable for compliance with social distancing and contributes to the dispersion of tourism flows. According to the UNWTO, tourism in rural areas has a better chance to recover because tourists tend to look for less-crowded places and can experience local culture. The UNWTO also fosters the connection between urban and rural areas to diversify cultural tourism products, supporting the mutual development of the two regions.
Improving human resources through digital transformation
Both the culture and tourism sectors need to train and improve the skills of the workforce to help them use new technologies, as well as update their skills in customer service adjustments to new health measures. Human resource capacity enhancement will help destinations build a resilient workforce.
Harnessing technology to increase competitiveness
UNWTO encourages establishing alliances with media and technology partners to bring cultural tourism experiences online and reach more tourists. Virtual reality experiences or applications that allow tourists to safely experience cultural tourism are initiatives that cultural destinations can use.
Promoting community-based tourism through “living heritage”
According to the UNWTO, this pandemic is an opportunity to rethink and review tourism experiences related to living heritages and reshape these tourism experiences in a more comprehensive and sustainable way. Therefore, there is a need to raise awareness about the importance of communities and cultural practitioners and living heritage to the sustainable development of tourism.