Blog | Future of tourism after the Corona crisis | By Edward Huijbens

Today (10 April) I made my debut in the Dutch newspapers along with colleagues from Wageningen University and Breda University of Applied Sciences. The article was published in the online edition of the Volkskrant (see here), but a synopsis of it appeared in the printed version. The frontpage headline of the print edition was however quite striking. It read; ‘KLM to be rescued at any cost’, whilst our message was quite clear that the government should seize this opportunity to discourage flying and explore alternative means of transport along with fostering an appreciation of that which is close at hand and even in one’s backyard. 

What this contrast makes adamantly clear is the inability of our structure of governance to weave our way out of an ever more crisis ridden economic model. In the wake of the credit crunch of 2008 ‘quantitative easing’ and central bank money printing went to salvage those already well positioned to take advantage of it (see here), entrenching further social inequalities we are seeing playing out so tragically in our current pandemic (see here). The unprecedented half a trillion euro bailout package for Europe in the current crisis seems poised to do the same as the Volkskrant headline would indicate. What the case of KLM’s unconditional rescue further indicates is the fact that no comprehensive plans seems to exist to live up to commitments made in the Paris agreement to curb fossil fuel dependency. In the case of the Netherlands current fossil fuel subsidies range from 0.17 billion Euros to 7.6 billion a year to date (see here). Indeed international aviation is not tallied in the national carbon budget within each National Energy and Climate Plan, but yet it will be Dutch tax money that will go to sustain a business that is in no way climatically reconcilable. Interestingly enough in this context, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) scheme for carbon offsetting and reduction (CORSIA) is meant to address emission from air travel in excess of 2020 levels. It will be interesting to see if that will actually hold.

More to the point however, in the current crisis we could be seizing the opportunity to curb the spiralling growth curve of tourism and our economy more generally. In a blog from late March, Robert Fletcher and colleagues show what ‘degrowth’ in the global tourism industry could look like (see here). Beyond these I would advocate a more earthly outlook for tourism. Following the logic of David Harvey, seeing capitalism as ‘too big to fail, yet to monstrous to persist’ (see here) I see deliberations towards the displacement of capitalism, a kind of post capitalist world, wherein a wider range of voices can be heard, space made for the multiplicity, i.e. cultural diversity to cultivate resilience, as with ecosystems more generally, and the Earth itself. Picking up on a Corona theme, we need to ‘flatten the curve’ of growth and business as usual to that of the Earth’s capacity, using and supporting the myriad of coping strategies people resort to in their everyday around the world. 

A systemic unravelling of capitalist relations through degrowth seems indeed a promising avenue, in particular to replace a full scale revolution with its ensuing chaos that would merely benefit those well off, and indications are that those are striving for at current (see here). But underpinning this unravelling needs to be a further and deeper reorientation of our valuing and mindsets than simply redistribution of wealth and social egalitarianism. Our current moment of tourism at an absolute stand still can allow for that. Through travelling indoors and in our own backyards we can make time for nature and be attentive to the small, which in turn can reveal a diversity of more-than-human interdependent temporalities that together make for Earth as we know it, showing thereby how all is related. The trick is then to tend to this smallness, decentre anthropocentric temporality and thereby be kind and caring. In other words, we have an opportunity now to explore the values attached to caring for each other, which I would like to extend to the planet as a whole. As we for the first time can see the Himalayas as the Indian economic boom generated smog lifts (see here), we can also look to ‘the Earth itself, with its immensely deep history, is a communal heritage and universal mentor that may help us find a set of shared values’ (see here, p. 177). These are values underpinning a regenerative culture of vitality and multiplicity. We need to recognise how small can change the lives of individuals, even under challenging conditions. The emerging keywords to me arevaluing endurance over conquest; restraint over consumption; continuity over novelty, transformation, diversity, adaptation, distribution, downscaling, density, decentralisation and experimentation.

The Corona pandemic has decidedly proven that we are all in it together on this one planet of ours. Tourism is a world-making force that can help us realise more community building and cultivation of our global village. That is not tourism as business as usual. That is a completely different type of tourism, that starts in our own backyards.