As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with ongoing challenges posed by climate change and ensuring sustainability, tourism globally is in a critical period of transition. Recognising this, the European Travel Commission (ETC) has released a report: “The Changing Tourism Environment and Its Impact on the Work of NTOs”.
The study investigates the ways in which European National Tourism Organisations (NTOs) have been evolving over the past decade and provides forward-looking insights and recommendations for achieving sustainable tourism development. The report also aims to understand the impact that COVID-19 had on NTOs work and lessons learned from this crisis to build future resilience for the tourism industry.
Drivers for change
The report starts by reviewing the evolution of European NTOs, together with changes in the tourism environment, during the period 2008-2021, at the European level and for selected individual countries. The five most significant changes in the environment and the ways that they influenced the evolution of European NTOs were defined as:
- Substantial changes in state policy
NTOs tended to experience major transformations after national policy and strategy reviews.
- Challenge of sustainability and climate change
Sustainability started to become an integral part of tourism strategies around 2019, but many NTOs in Europe still do not have a defined strategy for achieving sustainability in tourism.
- Data and digital innovation
There is a need for increased awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities arising from digital innovation and for the skills gap within NTOs to be addressed. However, there are already many examples of good progress in this respect.
- Disruptions caused by health crises, economic situation, terrorism, etc
NTOs most often received increased budget and responsibility for promotion and recovery campaigns during or following a crisis. This has also been the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- ‘Building back better’ following COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated trends in the evolution of NTOs towards increased engagement in sustainability, digital transition, and destination management. It appears to represent a ‘watershed moment’ for tourism globally, with widespread demands for meaningful action in addressing the challenges of sustainability and the improved management of destinations.
Dominant features of NTOs’ funding and operations
There has been considerable variation in the pattern of budget changes for NTOs over the past ten years. However, one key trend is that a large majority of the NTOs that have seen substantial budget increases are in Eastern Europe, whilst nearly all of the NTOs that have seen significant decreases are in Western Europe. Overall, NTO funding comes predominantly from governments and other public sources; this is likely to continue in the years ahead.
Throughout past years, many NTOs have embarked on major processes of change, often accompanied by significant cultural shifts to the existing institutions. Notably, the great majority has initiated a significant programme of internal digital transformation (e.g., digitised business process applications, use of big data for research, use of AI for information provision).
Moreover, many NTOs said that COVID-19 was likely to result in changes to their strategic objectives, with the most frequently anticipated ones being: a larger emphasis on digital transformation, an increase in the importance of sustainability, a stronger focus on the interests of local residents and more attention to domestic and neighbouring markets.
Vision for the future
The report also sets out ‘The ETC Vision for Europe’s NTOs’ and a set of strategic objectives relating to it. Each of the objectives contributes to several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In order to deliver these objectives, three priorities for NTO action and seven critical success factors have been identified: