A bit of creativity, guidance, and willingness to be open to the world are all that's needed for an internal journey to take place. | Photo by Arian Darvishi on Unsplash

January 16, 2023

By definition, “to travel” means “to go from one place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship.” The act of traveling is further defined as “journeying, especially to distant places.”

Going far from home is certainly part of the appeal of traveling. It’s in new places that people are immersed in new cultural experiences, can meet new people, and have access to new activities. The appeal is in that newness.

But, as the tourism industry is increasingly discovering, travel isn’t only about a physical journey. There is also an internal, personal journey that also matters. 

This internal journey matters for a lot of reasons.

First, the reasons why people choose to travel can often be satisfied within or right beyond their own neighborhoods. Most people don’t think about their own communities as vacation destinations because this is where they live, work, and play every day. Yet, a surprising number of people haven’t really gotten to know the value, history, and story of their own backyards. Investing time as travelers within their own sphere of life can spark a sense of pride and compassion to care for their communities and share them with others.

Secondly, having new experiences, encounters, and activities — the reasons people undertake physical journeys — often ignite curiosity, awe, and a sense of wonder. These intangible benefits universally enhance people’s lives. Yet, no one actually has to travel far to experience them. A bit of creativity, guidance, and willingness to be open to the world as it is can reveal a treasure trove of opportunity for transformational growth.

Finally, this internal journey also matters because physical journeys aren’t always possible — and they might become less possible in the years ahead. Leisure travel remains inaccessible to the vast majority of people in the world. Visa restrictions, financial barriers, and a myriad of other obstacles prevent people from packing their bags and heading abroad for a couple weeks. Being able to do this is an immense privilege. But despite that privilege, the climate crisis — and other catastrophic events, like the COVID-19 pandemic — have the potential to curb anyone’s access to places so many of us take for granted as just a plane ride away.

In theory, the tourism industry survives on the fact that people physically move from Place A to Place B. But to thrive, the tourism industry should broaden its definition of travel, invest more in their own communities, and remember that transformational journeys don’t require distance.

Here are a few ideas on how they can do that.

Support local tourism businesses in a wide variety of capacities.

It’s been a rough few years for small businesses, especially those in the tourism industry. Deep in the pandemic, some destinations provided funding for local tourism businesses to help get them through their darkest hour. But just because the pandemic is “over” doesn’t mean local businesses are thriving. In fact, small businesses still struggling to dig themselves out of the hole are now also facing inflation and workforce shortages.

We know that money invested in local businesses, especially those owned by women, is more likely to be reinvested back into the community because business owners are active members and spend money in the place they call home. This is a win-win-win situation for small businesses, destinations, and all members of the community. 

Even as they seek to attract inbound travelers, DMOs need to double down on their financial, promotional, and professional support for local tourism businesses. 4VI (formerly Tourism Vancouver Island), is a relatively new destination model: As a social enterprise, it’s focused on supporting local initiatives that create a great place to live — and, therefore, a great place to visit. 

And at the city level, NYC & Company’s Tourism Ready program is a free program offering education for NYC businesses on how to work with the travel trade on things like tourism marketing, social media and communications, and navigating the tourism landscape.

Encourage local residents to support their own communities — and reward them for it.

During the global lockdown, there was a lot of effort to make places friendlier for locals, but those efforts are slowly reverting back to the pre-pandemic days. How quickly we forget where the money and personpower to keep places flourishing comes from.

For a brief period of time, major cities converted roads into pedestrian zones, but many have been reverted back. Tourism-focused web pages centered on local businesses for local people sprang up overnight, but they’ve since given way to generic COVID information pages. Campaigns and apps that rewarded local residents for visiting small businesses, spending money on Main Street, and participating in experiences that kept people involved in their own communities are now defunct.

But why? Why aren’t destinations putting efforts into catering to local residents to help them become local explorers and ambassadors? Needless to say, the tourism industry should recognize the importance of building resilience from within, yet we’ve moved so far beyond this lesson already.

Yes, inbound tourism matters. But, if we’re going to trumpet community-led tourism, then long-term tourism strategies must care for those people who are at the heart of places.

Continue to invest in domestic tourism.

In addition to caring for local residents, destinations shouldn’t turn their backs on local and regional travelers. Yes, people are scratching the itch to get away after being cooped up for so long. However, as noted, international travel remains inaccessible to many people, and a lot of people’s interest and ability to travel further afield is being curbed by the climate crisis.

Instead of continuing the full-fledged dive into wooing international arrivals, DMOs would be wise to spread their investment and support so that domestic and regional tourism are also given attention. There was, of course, a lot of effort placed on strengthening domestic tourism in the wake of COVID-19 with everything from local “resident tourist” efforts to new narratives that encouraged local residents to rethink their own homes as destinations.

Again, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that everything can change overnight. Instead of letting that resilience muscle weaken, destinations should continue to invest in their domestic and regional tourism efforts generously.

The tourism industry is in a state of flux. Within this evolution is also a need to think about what the industry intends to exist for and provide to tourists. Is it only about encouraging people to move from one place to another? Or is there an opportunity to broaden the definition of travel and remember that even meaningful journeys can take place without going far from home?


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