Pandemic Recovery Advice for Companies and Destinations: A Summary of Recommendations from McKinsey and Company

8 June 2021

The announcement May 19 that EU countries would officially welcome foreign travelers who have received an approved coronavirus vaccine is another milestone on the road to travel’s recovery. In the flurry of articles in the mainstream and travel trade media speculating on tourism’s recovery, I came across this piece of analysis by McKinsey & Company that, while focused on Spain’s recovery, contains relevant advice for many adventure travel companies and tourism destinations. Read on for highlights from the article with some perspective on what it means for all of us in adventure travel.

The McKinsey analysts consider five key factors as most influential in determining how quickly the tourism economy in Spain would recover:

  1. Attractiveness of domestic destinations
  2. Availability of air transport
  3. Health and hygiene
  4. Importance of business travel 
  5. Sustainability
Key Takeaway: Destinations who are weak in more than a couple of these areas are going to take longer to recover. I thought it was particularly interesting to see sustainability show up in this list of recovery factors, reinforcing research from both Euromonitor and UNDP around the relevance of climate for travelers: “Travelers are increasingly conscious about the size of their carbon footprint when they travel and may base their travel decisions on environmental issues.” Companies and destinations that develop their climate and sustainability strategies, and communicate those efforts clearly will have an advantage coming out of the pandemic. 

The researchers also analyzed how different segments of the tourism industry - adventure tourism, MICE, religious tourism, sun, and beach - among others, were affected by factors like accessibility, density of people at the destination, health and hygiene, and relevance of international travel. In all they examined 13 different tourism segments and their dependence against ten different indicators. 

Key Takeaway: The most vulnerable segments are MICE, group travel, cruise, individual business, urban, and sun and beach; the segments expected to recover quickest are adventure tourism, sport tourism, religious tourism and ecotourism. These segments are not the ones historically contributing the greatest amount of money to tourism GDP in most places, which would seem to open up an opportunity for adventure travel. Given the expectation that segments like sun and beach are not expected to recover until 2025 and beyond, investments in adventure tourism development and promotion could help capture new business and build in resilience for future shocks. 

The segments expected to recover quickest are adventure tourism, sport tourism, religious tourism and ecotourism.

Tying up their analysis, the McKinsey team offered a set of three key recommendations for travel destinations and businesses: 
  • Improve competitiveness by increasing focus on productivity and deepening investments in digital capabilities. They note that in stimulus funds will help tourism businesses and observed that some are even linked to requirements in digital and sustainability capabilities, such as NextGenerationEU
  • Innovate and collaborate across organizations and sectors, looking for new areas of demand and new partners to help address those opportunities. As an example they suggest, “hotels could partner with hospitals to offer healthcare workers rest-and-relaxation packages, and MICE venues could be converted to remote-education facilities to host “schoolcations.” It’s not hard to imagine adventure travel tour operators, accommodations, and destinations easily picking up a theme like this with “nature reset” packages and promotions. Another recommendation is to “pool resources to improve flexibility”, which could mean pooling labor resources and also money. This caught my attention especially as it relates to climate action, as two of the Adventure Travel Trade Asssociation’s climate action offerings are built on the idea of pooled resources - Neutral Together invites businesses to pool their carbon emissions to reduce offsetting costs; Tomorrow’s Air is a collective effort aimed at promoting carbon removal education along with the removal and permanent storage of CO2.
  • Form  ‘tourism reimagination task force’ to play a more active role in tourism management. The McKinsey team envisions five teams within this task force including “marketing and demand fostering”, “industry financial support”, and “industry relaunch” among others. A key element of their vision is that the teams consist of public and private sector stakeholders. They also recommend regional DMO collaboration and reference the example of  Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein region, “where multiple levels of government agencies and local tourism companies formed a ‘cluster’ to foster close central collaboration and launch joint initiatives (for example, on sustainability practices).” In the adventure category regional DMO collaborations in Colombia, Scotland, and the Bahamas offer a range of examples of this type of collaboration yielding good results.
    • In Colombia, ProColombia, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development USAID, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society and active guides in the country, designed a manual -  "Contemplate, Understand, Conserve: An Illustrated Manual for Nature Tourism Guides in Colombia" -  to help qualify guides in the country. The manual has also become a useful document for anyone interested in the natural attractions of the country’s regions.
    • In Scotland, the national tourism board and private companies collaborated across regions for new product development focused on adventure through a program called: Let’s Grow Adventure.
    • In the Bahamas, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism coordinated a Community-Based Tourism Initiative with a collection of regional stakeholders alongside public and private supporters including Compete Caribbean, Canadian Government, UK Aid, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The project encourages collaborative participation by local communities in Andros to create and deliver tourism products and services that hold natural resource use and conservation as a centerpiece, preserving the Island's biodiversity, natural eco-systems, cultural norms, and traditions. 
I’ll add a fourth recommendation to the McKinsey list, which is to stay connected. As we’ve seen repeatedly throughout the pandemic, the network of relationships we build and maintain through the ATTA are a valuable source of inspiration, ideas, and collaboration that can help us all transform and thrive in the coming years.  
Stay connected with the adventure travel trade community. Join us 20-24 September, 2021 at the Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) Virtual with host destination, Hokkaido, Japan. Learn More