Tourism in a new-normal world from Malta Tourism Society
4th May 2020
Tourism in a new-normal world no.1
Museums, squares, and the great capitals of Europe, only a few weeks ago were bustling with activity. Tourists trying to steal that unique picture amidst all the other heads and raised hands, all trying to photograph and capture the same icon, work of art, building or meaning. Immediately it seemed sad to see open public spaces, cathedrals and galleries empty; yet, gradually many began to see those same wonders in a new light – these monuments and works of art were indeed revealing further their magnificence, beauty and charm. Drones and lonely photographers sought to capture these visions of palaces and squares that were always there, but taken for granted and ‘prostituted’ to attract the mass tourist. Such monuments and sights, as if from a world without human beings to dominate them, gained a new meaning as they now dominate this world gone silent. Through history, human ingenuity gave us, 21st century peoples, something to wonder at, enjoy, but above all, curate. Soon enough the streets and art galleries will be places of encounter as they are meant to be and this plague will be a blemish and yet another fragment in world history as we teach ourselves to forget.
Museums and places of tourist attraction, despite the economic losses, learn to create a new-normal; where monuments and works of art are admired, gazed upon and studied – not simply visited. Already large and popular sites are discovering a new museumology concept, preparing virtual tours with, albeit, a beefed up learning experience topping the actual visit to the sites. Many did not pre new-normal times have the time to sit, gaze, learn and experience.
ICOM have also commented on this new situation stating that this crises has allowed museums to discover new ways of reaching the public and promoting heritage. The only way to respect the past is to study it and not simply look at it for a couple of seconds as you run to the next artefact, building or monument. Such virtual experiences can help to protect sites from being heavily commercialized, allowing them to ‘breath’ and giving the opportunity to real visitors as well as virtual visitors to tour and learn at one’s on pace.
On a local level, stake holders involved in the tourism and heritage industry are faced with two options. The first is to work hard to reach the number of tourists as experienced prior to the global COVID-19 world. Secondly they can go for a more sustainable tourism growth which helps the environmental and infrastructural scenarios not to suffer yet again. This can be done by adopting an integrated approach involving stakeholders directly influenced by tourism, academics who study tourism trends, as well as the communities themselves who could be involved to create community-based tourism programmes bringing visitors in contact with local customs, cuisine and curiosities.
Without overemphasising nationalistic sentiments we must at the same time strive to protect our natural and built heritage not for the sake of the mass visitor, seen as a necessary evil one must live with to keep up the economic growth, but for the sake of preservation and posterity as well as for cultural education. In this way visitors may truly experience the sites they visit, the art they see and the people they meet. Tourism should be there for people’s constructive experience and not for heritage’s destructive exploitation. Tourists should not be numbers as they have been up till the first month of 2020. They are individuals, born to experience, discover, learn, savour and enjoy destinations through has a life built through travel and encounters. Let us curate our heritage, protect it while saving and promoting tourism. Technological means are one possibility for experience, sharing and promoting our cultural heritage. May we learn from this pandemic and the constraints it has imposed upon us. To appreciate our planet as tourists we must discover it slowly, sustainably and respectfully.
(Text: Gabriel Farrugia, Projects officer – Malta Tourism Society)