01/10/2020 Opinion

Marta Farrero Muñoz, Managing director of Tarragona Provincial Authority Tourist Board

The management of brands by tourism board of Tarragona Provincial Council: Costa Daurada and Terres de l’Ebre during COVID-19

Tourism is a source of income and occupation and not only in regions with few economic alternatives but has also been a factor in diversification in the richest regions. Urban tourism has often made it possible to regenerate and activate degraded historical districts, as well as to compensate for crises arising from declining agricultural and industrial activities or traditional services.

However, we are immersed in a crisis that directly affects tourism. No other economic activity has been as affected as tourism, which is necessarily linked to international traffic and human relations. How do we manage this situation?

We must bear in mind that we cannot foresee when and how this pandemic will end. The impact on tourist activity will depend, to a large extent, on the dimension of the crisis in terms of the duration and consequences of the health crisis; the restriction of the mobility of people between destinations which may be different according to the different destinations; the economic impact and the changes in the behavior of tourists.

During this tourist year we have had to adapt as destinations to the regulation of the capacity on the beaches and in tourist facilities; to the modification of services in the lodgings in relation to entrances and exits; to the adaptation of protocols to the hotel industry, the use of swimming pools, or to the constant cleaning and disinfection of the common spaces. The tourism sector has had to face new and complicated circumstances unimaginable a few months ago such as the closing of borders, the cessation of activity at airports, changes in mobility where private vehicles are favored over public and shared transport.

As tourist destinations, the Costa Daurada and Terres de l’Ebre have taken advantage of the European project we are developing, the PECT TurisTIC in family, in order to reformulate what we were working on to prepare ourselves to face new scenarios and contingencies that we had not foreseen. We detected changes in the trends of tourists and the population in general which we do not know if they will persist over time, but we must bear them in mind when designing our tourism products.

The population is more aware of the impact that their activity produces on the environment, also in relation to tourism. The trips to discover the natural environment near home are perceived in a more positive and sustainable way. In the collective imagination arises the need to revive vacations from “childhood”, as before, a desire to recover the comfort and security, which are a priority for citizens in terms of free time.

These new priorities are reflected in what determines the decision-making process when it comes to organizing a holiday trip. Beaches, for example, remain attractive to visitors, but tourists value much more some aspects such as access, surveillance, capacity control, safety distance … elements that once were secondary are now decisive when planning and designing the vacation.

The technological component is here to stay. Technology and electronic devices have been a key instrument in overcoming the difficulties imposed by the necessary social distancing during tourist activity in these times of coronavirus. What was once an option is now a prominent tool to make a safe and complete experience for tourists viable. For example, QR codes were not successful and now they re-emerging as a safe alternative to physical menus in restaurants. Moreover, visitors have access to audio guides from their personal cell phones during a cultural visit; online check-in is performed in hotels and updated information is available thanks to the different applications. Payments with the cell phone, sensors that turn on and close lights in common spaces, temperature controls and others, are just some examples of how technology has adopted an important, often key, role in the relationship between customers and the different tourist services.

Internet connectivity is another essential factor in this new scenario in which presential activity is conditioned according to the evolution of the health crisis. Teleworking, and consequently having a good Internet connection that allows work or classes without interruption, may mean that the population not only moves during vacation periods, but also during other times of the year. This new way of working, in which no physical presence is required in the office, facilitates the possibility of approaching a natural environment and adopting a calmer rhythm of life without failing to comply with the respective obligations.

This has led us to rethink our projects. Within one of the operations of the PECT TurisTIC, specifically within the operation Playa Innovadora (Innovator Beach), we are testing different sensors and cameras on different beaches of the Costa Dorada and Terres de l’Ebre, which allow us to meet these new needs of tourists and the local population, while collecting information to better manage the beaches, respecting them as the natural spaces they are. In addition, we are working to create products and services on the beaches that have a use beyond the “summer season”, even thinking that these new uses can be given throughout the year.

We also work on the digitalization of the wine tourism product of our territory, which includes practically all of our interior region. It is a challenge to improve the online presence of this offer that can generate many different and authentic experiences of being in contact with nature for our families.

In relation to the cultural heritage, we are rethinking and taking into account that we have worked for many years to convince the cultural public to come to our facilities and interact during their visit, also in a tactile way. Now we face the challenge of reorienting this aspect and achieving a complete, interactive and enriching experience for visitors that complies, at the same time, with the safety and hygiene protocols that the current circumstances require to be established, also in the equipment and cultural resources.

In the field of use of technology and in combination with data analysis applied to tourism, our commitment has a long history and also faces new challenges and projects ahead. Until now we had a tourism management platform for destinations that obtains accurate and updated information on activity, as well as on the nature of demand. Currently, we are working with Eurecat, the Technological Center of Catalonia, on the development of a new technological platform that will gather new and more information about tourist resources and equipment, their uses and visitor behavior. New sources of information, in which technology is fundamental, will help us not only to manage these spaces in a sustainable way, but also to make better decisions regarding the management of the Costa Daurada and Terres de l’Ebre as tourist destinations.

We have an opportunity to reorganize and adapt our tourist spaces towards a new way of doing tourism, without forgetting our essence, a new safer way with limited capacity that will surely be closer to what the environment is capable of withstanding. We will not let this opportunity pass us by and, as always, we will take on new challenges from entrepreneurs, the local population, our visitors, the University and the research centers.

Tourism is an industry in continuous movement that depends on collaboration to achieve success. It is an activity for people, made for people and aimed at people’s well-being.

An activity like this calls on us to overcome difficulties, adapt and improve.

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