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Finding a new post-crisis balance: resilience in the tourism industry

How can touristic regions deal with crises and dynamic change without incurring long-term damage, and maybe even emerge from a crisis stronger? This question is currently investigated by Daniel Zacher, team member at the Chair of Tourism at the KU. In the context of his doctoral thesis, he particularly focuses on so-called resilience as a location factor. This term originates in the field of psychology and describes the individual intrinsic ability to develop resistance and robustness when confronted with crisis situations. The Latin word “resilire” indicates that something returns to its original status. When put into a wider context, resilience can also describe a tourist destination’s ability to react to external factors, which disturb an existing balance, in a productive way.

Daniel Zacher works as research associate for the Chair of Tourism and is a team member of “Mensch in Bewegung”. (Photo: Klotzeck/upd)

Daniel Zacher works as research associate for the Chair of Tourism and is a team member of “Mensch in Bewegung”. (Photo: Klotzeck/upd)

Affected regions include destinations which have fallen victim to their own success: “On the one hand, the hotel and restaurant industry benefits from a large number of tourists. However, there are also areas in which excessive tourism has a detrimental effect on the location’s attractiveness. In this case, the question arises whether it is sensible to limit the number of visitors, for example in order to be able to offer a higher level of quality to increase the amount of added value per guest. If this is successfully implemented, the location benefits from so-called resilient tourism and stays competitive in a new way”, explains Zacher. This example shows that resilience can be interpreted from different perspectives: it can mean the return to an earlier state or it can signify swift change to regain balance by shifting priorities. A fundamental prerequisite for resilience is that all players within a region do not only start to exchange views and opinions during a crisis, but rather start right now in order to combine their strengths: “Resilience is basically a strategic issue which demands the courage to say: We are doing well, we have to seize the opportunity to start preparing for change now”, says Zacher.

This is in line with the ideas Zacher summarizes in particular for Bavarian tourism in the context of his doctoral thesis. He came across the “100 Resilient Cities”-initiative by the Rockefeller Foundation which is funding so-called resilience officers in 100 cities and places worldwide. These officers function as central intersection points for a regional network connecting politics, industry and society in order to not only equip cities for dealing with natural disasters but also address underlying issues which have the potential to exacerbate crises. The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that the 2005 hurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans could have had less severe consequences if the city had not already been weakened by outdated infrastructure, racism, violence, poverty and an obsolete economic structure.

Daniel Zacher questioned several resilience officers and found many parallels to destination managers as far their strategies and tasks were concerned: “Especially in places where tourism is of major economic relevance, destination managers take over a cross-cutting function for a resilient regional and location development. Their role also allows them to make their voices heard when addressing issues which are relevant way beyond individual legislative terms – such as climate change consequences for tourism offers.” This was also confirmed in Zacher’s exchange with a number of destination managers. They see themselves confronted with the fundamental challenge created by the fact that the tourism industry achieves substantial growth rates on the one hand, but on the other hand, the hotel and restaurant business is struggling to find additional skilled workers. In addition, smaller family businesses, which are a core pillar in this industry, often lack a clear succession arrangement and regions suffer from a tense relationship between local citizens and tourism.

“The tourism industry in Bavaria is doing very well. But this still means that it needs the sensitivity and willingness to exchange opinions on a cross-regional level. I think that all destination managers within Bavaria could deepen their systematic network”, says Zacher. He went on to say that it was important to create awareness for available resources and networks already in times of success in order to be able to fall back on them in case of crisis. “There is no sure formula for success. In the end, every tourism destination has to define its own focus areas in order to be able to develop a strategy of resilience”, emphasizes Daniel Zacher. Resilience is no guarantee that all crises are mastered entirely unharmed. It is a valuable reminder to not only focus on the status quo but also openly talk about the future and downsizing concepts or the concentration of powers as options for a sustainable path forward.