21 JUL 2021 - UNWTO
The biggest crisis in the history of tourism continues into a second year. Between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85% below 2019 levels (or a 65% drop on 2020), UNWTO data shows. Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of COVID-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel. Meanwhile, domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world.
The latest UNWTO data shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than pre-pandemic year of 2019. However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82% (versus May 2019), after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.
UNWTO Tourism Barometer July 2021
Rebuild trust to restart tourism
“Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
By regions, Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the largest decline with a 95% drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Europe (-85%) recorded the second largest decline in arrivals, followed by the Middle East (-83%) and Africa (-81%). The Americas (-72%) saw a comparatively smaller decrease. In June, the number of destinations with complete closure of borders decreased to 63, from 69 in February. Of these, 33 were in Asia and the Pacific, while just seven in Europe, the region with the fewest restrictions on travel currently in place.
By sub-regions, the Caribbean (-60%) recorded the best relative performance through May 2021. Growing travel from the United States has benefitted destinations in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Mexico. Western Europe, Southern and Mediterranean Europe, South America and Central America saw slightly better results in May than in April.
Mixed outlook for remainder of 2021
International tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to reimpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. However, vaccination programmes around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.
In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets. Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the United States is strengthening further.
UNCTAD report expects losses in global GDP of $1.7 trillion to $2.4 trillion in 2021 from the drop in international travel compared to 2019.
The coronavirus pandemic, which swept the world in early 2020, has been a real rollercoaster for the global economy. What began as a local Chinese threat had already by the end of March turned into a global market loss, the highest since 2008. Everyone from small businesses to huge corporations, from services to entertainment, from small to large, has been affected.
The tourism industry, together with the entertainment industry, is one of the main victims of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. However, if the entertainment industry has found a way out of the situation and went to the Internet platform, where it opened virtual institutions and allowed visitors to have fun, then the tourism industry cannot boast about this.
The Sharp Decline in International Tourism
The sharp decline in international tourism due to the pandemic could cost the world economy in 2020-2021, 4.8 trillion dollars. According to CNN, one of the reasons is the lack of vaccines for developing countries.
A report released June 30 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) showed that this year alone will cost global GDP $1.7 to $2.4 trillion — more than what was expected in last year’s worst-case projections. According to the study, conducted with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), about 60 percent of the losses will come from developing countries.
“A rebound in international tourism is expected in the second half of this year, but the UNCTAD report still expects losses of $1.7 trillion to $2.4 trillion in 2021 compared to 2019,” the experts stated.
The report presents possible scenarios for the development of the situation. According to the most pessimistic scenario, the number of international trips will decrease by 75% this year. In this case, the tourism sector will lose $ 948 billion, and the world’s GDP will suffer a loss of $2.4 trillion.
The second scenario is based on an assumed decline in international tourist arrivals by 63%. The third scenario is based on the fact that 75% fewer visits will be made to countries with low levels of vaccination against coronavirus, and in countries where a large part of the population has been vaccinated, the tourist flow will decrease by 37%. Under the second scenario, losses in global GDP are projected at $1.7 trillion, and under the third scenario – 1.8 trillion.
The authors of the report draw attention to the significant impact of mass vaccination on the tourism sector. In states with high vaccination coverage, economic losses will not be as high as in states where vaccination is slow or has barely begun. “The tourism sector is expected to recover faster in countries with high vaccination rates, such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States,” the experts point out.
However, they believe the sector will not reach pre-pandemic coronavirus levels until 2023 or even later. The report cites “travel restrictions, slow containment of the virus, low traveler confidence and a meager economic environment” as the main obstacles to the industry’s development. “The world needs a global vaccination effort that protects workers, mitigates negative social impacts, and leads to strategic tourism decisions that take into account potential structural changes,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durand.
Developing Countries Hit Harder
In 2020, UNCTAD estimates that international tourism has suffered $2.4 trillion in direct and indirect global GDP losses due to the recession. Over 12 months, international tourist arrivals decreased by 1 billion, or 73%. Developing countries were particularly hard hit, where the flow of tourists was reduced by an estimated 60-80%.
The heaviest losses were in North-East and South-East Asia, as well as in Oceania, North Africa, and South Asia. At the same time, North America, Western Europe, and the Caribbean were less affected by the decline in tourism.
Turkey, Ecuador, South Africa, the Maldives, St. Lucia, and much of Asia and Oceania were hit hardest by the lack of tourists. While North America, Western Europe, and the Caribbean hardly felt it at all.
According to the UNWTO, 60 to 80 percent fewer tourists will visit poor countries in 2020. Between 100 million and 120 million jobs, held by youth, women, and informal workers, are at risk.
Low Vaccination Rates
The main obstacle to the recovery of the industry is considered to be the low rate of vaccination. According to UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, vaccination is crucial for economic recovery in developing countries, as this is the only way to protect people and safely restart tourism.
However, as data from the online publication Our World in Data shows, only ten percent of the world’s population is now fully vaccinated. Even in countries with high vaccination rates, such as the United Kingdom, travel restrictions have not been lifted for fear of contracting the new “delta” variant of the virus.
Despite the easing of restrictions and the resumption of travel in some parts of the world, the crisis is far from over. Half of the experts surveyed by the UNWTO believe that international tourism will return to 2019 levels no sooner than in five years.
As a possible solution to the problem at this time, the organization suggests that countries better harmonize and ease the requirements for crossing borders. For example, develop common standards for inexpensive and reliable coronavirus testing.
U.S. arrivals are up, but so are coronavirus cases, especially in hot tourism spots like Los Cabos and Cancún. Experts urge caution, but visitors keep coming.
By Elaine Glusac New York Times July 16, 2021
Mexico’s reputation as an alluring travel destination both before and during the pandemic has met a sobering reality: Despite growing vaccine efforts, the coronavirus is surging, especially in tourist hot spots.
Though the U.S. land border with Mexico has been closed to nonessential travel since the start of the pandemic, vacationers can fly into the country with no quarantine or testing requirements, opening the door to unvaccinated travelers who might contract the virus in Mexico and bring it back home, or for any traveler to pass it on to a Mexican citizen.
But those risks didn’t deter the more than 2 million Americans who visited Mexico in the first four months of this year. According to Mexican government statistics, they represent 76 percent of all international visitors arriving by air. Forward Keys, a service that analyzes flight data, found that air ticketing for American arrivals to Mexico is up nearly 32 percent in the third quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.
But infections in Mexico are also up — by about 85 percent in the first two weeks of July, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. In a recent news conference, Hugo López-Gatell, Mexico’s deputy health minister, confirmed a spike in infections that constitutes a third wave in the pandemic and the second in 2021.
Three of the five Mexican states with the highest rates of infection are popular with tourists, including Quintana Roo, home to Cancún and the Riviera Maya; neighboring Yucatán; and Baja California Sur, home to Los Cabos.
The latter leads all others in infection rates, with 47 cases per 100,000 people. The popular resort destination of Los Cabos, at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, accounts for 54 percent of the active cases in Baja California Sur.
“Covid is substantial down here,” said Jon Gabrielsen, an American living in Los Cabos. “It’s not like the U.S. where they have brought infection rates down to very low numbers with the vaccine. The vaccination rate is not very high here. Fellow Americans should understand they need to mask up.”
Higher infections, lower vaccinations
The recent rise in cases comes as Mexico races to acquire and distribute vaccines. About 16 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and 28 percent have received at least one dose. (This is much lower compared to the United States, where about 56 percent of those eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated, and 65 percent have received at least one dose.)
“Understandably, the health minister is talking about a new wave,” said Lin H. Chen, the immediate past president of the International Society of Travel Medicine and the director of the Mount Auburn Travel Medicine Center, noting that the variants, including the highly infectious Delta variant, have been found in Mexico.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the threat level of the coronavirus in Mexico at Level 3 of 4, or High, and recommended travel only for those who are fully vaccinated. (It also recommends vaccinated travelers get tested three to five days after they have returned from Mexico.)
“I would feel more comfortable if a destination is in the 60 to 70 percent vaccination range,” before traveling there, Dr. Chen said, advising even fully vaccinated travelers to wear face masks indoors, maintain social distancing and dine outdoors.
‘Mexico has made it not very complicated’
Economic pressure prevailed when Mexico reopened last summer without testing or quarantine mandates, hurdles that might have crimped tourism more than it already has — international visitors are down about 45 percent in the first four months of 2021, according to the Mexican Ministry of Tourism, compared to 2019 — particularly in its tourist hot spots.
In Los Cabos, about 80 percent of the economy depends on tourism. For the first half of 2021, its tourism figures were off only about 20 percent compared to the same period in 2019, a relatively healthy figure in a time of scant international travel.
“Mexico has made it not very complicated for us to travel to their country, as far as testing,” said Christen Perry, the owner of Classic Travel Connection, a travel agency in Birmingham, Ala.
It also helps that Mexico is affordable (Americans get nearly 20 Mexican pesos to the dollar), a quick flight from many American airports (under three hours from Dallas to Cancún) and much of its appeal is outdoors.
Red light, green light
Travelers bound for Mexico will find coronavirus precautions dictated by a cautionary stoplight system applied state-by-state and ranging from red — with maximum restrictions — to green, or fully open. While most of the country is in green, five states — Tamaulipas and Tabasco as well as Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo and Yucatán — are orange, the second highest level.
Under the orange designation, restaurants and hotels are restricted to 50 percent capacity, markets to 75 percent capacity and theaters and museums to 25 percent capacity, according to the U.S. embassy in Mexico. Mask mandates are in effect in many places.
The three tourist-heavy states say they are strictly abiding by health and safety protocols, including mask mandates, social distancing, curfews and banning large groups. In Los Cabos, fireworks for the American Fourth of July holiday were prohibited to prevent people from congregating.
Amy Lytle, the owner of the travel agency House of Travel in Baton Rouge, La., is sending about 100 clients to Mexico this summer. She had one travel adviser in Los Cabos in June when the state went from yellow to orange on the stoplight system and said taxi drivers were rounding up diners at restaurants to get them back to their resorts before the 11 p.m. curfew.
“Most destinations are taking it probably even more seriously than they are here, but it’s also their livelihood and the last thing they want is for someone to get sick at a resort,” she said.
Still, reports on social media, including packed streets of revelers in Cancún, indicate some travelers are flouting the rules.
The tourism authority of Quintana Roo responded to an inquiry from The Times that the state government conducts random rapid testing in the nightclub area of downtown Cancún and has deployed workers to dispense hand sanitizer and masks.
“What impresses me here is how businesses, bars and restaurants have respected government protocols and, in some cases, exceeded them,” wrote David Saito-Chung, a financial writer based in Los Angeles who has vacationed in San José del Cabo several times since early 2020, in an email.
He estimated local compliance with the mask mandates in the area to be above 80 percent.
“Tourists here mostly go without a mask,” he added. “So, it makes me wonder if the chance of infection through close contact with other visitors is higher.”
Testing to come home
The United States, of course, has its own deterrent in the requirement that all travelers, even fully vaccinated ones, test negative before returning home. Anyone testing positive will be subject to a mandatory quarantine.
Tourism authorities said the positive rate has been low. “One of the first conversations we have with clients is you have to understand the risks and rewards,” said Ms. Perry, the travel adviser, who spells out the potential consequences of quarantines and flight cancellations; none of her clients have been denied re-entry. “There’s more risk associated with travel than ever before.”
Lori Speers, the owner of the Dallas-based travel agency Levarte Travel has sent hundreds of clients to Mexico since last summer, largely booking her groups in all-inclusive beach resorts where testing to date has been complimentary.
“During Covid, bookings never slowed down,” she said, noting that some resorts are planning to begin charging for the tests later this month, with rates running from $50 to $150.
Lynda Hower, a travel adviser based in Pittsburgh, was vacationing in the Cancún area with her family earlier this month. She said the airport customs lines were crowded with several flights landing at the same time, resulting in little social distancing. To reach the resort, she opted for a private transfer. A few days before returning home, the family was tested for free at the resort and able to receive their negative results via text at the pool.
“It was very professional,” she said, noting she got the results in 20 minutes.
No 4 a.m. tequila shots
The state of Jalisco, home to Puerto Vallarta, is green on the stoplight system, and it’s not hard to spot a tourist in town, especially as travel has picked up this year.
“The majority are still masked down here and if someone is not masked, you can assume they are probably a tourist,” said Robert Nelson, a California native who lives in Puerto Vallarta and runs the subscription website Expats in Mexico. “We are working hard to get more people vaccinated, but we need a little help from the folks visiting to abide by the local regulations.”
But even compliant travelers will find the experience changed, because of fewer visitors or safety protocols.
“Don’t expect bars to allow you to stay until 4 or 5 in the morning doing shots,” Mr. Nelson added.
In San Miguel de Allende, the popular colonial town in Guanajuato in central Mexico, public statues are dressed in masks and anyone entering the central plaza must pass through an arch that mists sanitizer. Local police admonish visitors to wear or pull up their masks and have been known to take scofflaws to jail for flouting the rules.
Ann Kuffner, an American retiree who has been living in San Miguel de Allende for the past three years, is telling friends who want to visit to wait until fall when vaccination rates will be higher and the events for which San Miguel is known, such as Day of the Dead festivities, may safely return.
“All Mexicans are wearing masks,” said Ms. Kuffner. “Some Americans aren’t because they’re vaccinated, but personally, I think it’s rude. Wearing one is a sign of respect, and respect is an important thing in the Mexican culture".
6th July 2021 Christopher Carey
Porto City Council has approved a plan to create a new administrative position to oversee the city’s short-term tourist rental market.
The ‘Local Accommodation Mediator’ will study and report on the interests, concerns and trends affecting all stakeholders in the sector, as well as help to settle conflicts.
In Portugal, the term ‘Local Accommodation’ (LA) refers to properties which are licenced for rental to tourists on platforms like Airbnb and Booking.com.
Ricardo Valente, Councillor for Economy and Tourism, City of Porto, said: “2020 marks the first year in which we had a reduction in the net stock of Local Accommodation licences in the city, a reduction of close to 400.”
However, he noted that many owners are simply waiting for tourism to fully reopen rather than shifting to the long-term residential sector, saying it makes “no sense” for the government to wait for the market to regulate itself.
Currently 7,646 LA establishments are registered in Porto, the equivalent of 12,428 rooms and 23,969 beds.
While Europe has seen a rise in the number of properties listed as long-term residential lets due to COVID-19, cities are now starting to assess whether things will revert to pre-pandemic trends, where local people were often pushed out of the rental market.
In July 2019, Porto City Council voted on new rules and regulations for a ‘containment area’ in the city, which suspended registrations of new LA licences in areas where demand was too high.
This included Porto’s historic centre and Bonfilm area as well as some of the most popular streets.
For years, European mayors have struggled to contain a proliferation of short-term property lets in city centres, lacking data to enforce limits on rental days or the number of properties in a building used for holiday lets.
But surging rents and a lack of availability in the private rental sector for local residents means cities are increasingly taking a more proactive approach.
Last week, a Paris court fined Airbnb €8.08 million (US$9.6 million) after the firm failed to comply with local regulations on listing apartments on the platform.
Commenting on the case, Ian Brossat, Deputy Mayor of Paris with responsibility for housing, said: “This is the first time in France that a community has condemned a digital giant.
“The responsibility of the platforms is finally recognised – a formidable victory for Parisians.”
The landmark ruling followed years of legal wrangling between the city and Airbnb.
In September 2020, a group of European cities including Paris, London, Helsinki and Barcelona called on the European Commission to impose stronger regulations on short-term holiday rental platforms, which could mean requiring companies to share more data with cities to aid oversight.
It followed a March 2020 agreement between Airbnb, Expedia, Tripadvisor and Booking.com to share data with the European Union’s statistics agency, Eurostat, on the number of nights and guests booked.
Initial data results from the agency are set to be published this month.
By Katie Anderson and Alli Bolger - Colle McVoy | PhocusWire June 28, 2021
As the world begins to return to travel, we can reflect on how COVID‐19 has opened our eyes to the tremendous impact of humans on the environment and on the delicate balance between economy and ecology when it comes to tourism.
For all of the positive ecological outcomes of decreased travel like Venice’s clear canals, deer roaming in East London or the decrease in global nitrogen dioxide concentrations, there have been negative impacts on the economies of destinations worldwide.
So, what happens now? Do we go back to our unchecked ways when travel resumes?
We believe COVID‐19 is allowing the travel industry to reevaluate, readjust and reimagine the definition of sustainable travel and, as a result, what that could mean for the future of destination marketing.
Marketers should now measure success not only by how many people it booked to a particular destination, but in what condition those visitors left that destination— both ecologically and economically - after the trip was over.
Many signs are telling us that the future of travel is sustainable, but also that the definition of sustainability is evolving from “do no harm” to “do better.”
Those that lead the way will create thriving destinations for travelers and local communities alike, benefitting both the economy and the environment.
Sustainability is a sincere aspiration of many travelers and viewed as a moral imperative in our globally connected world. Both consumers and thought leaders increasingly insist that brands be environmentally responsible.
For example, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has called on businesses to prioritize sustainability. BlackRock has placed 191 businesses on a watch list and voted against 64 directors and 69 companies for climate‐related reasons.
“The more your firms are seen to embrace the climate transition and the opportunities it brings, the more the market will reward your firms with higher valuations,” wrote Fink in a letter to CEOs.
As people start releasing their pent‐up travel desires in the coming months, how can travel destination marketers leverage this momentum?
According to The Harris Poll, travel is the #1 splurge purchase North Americans are saving up for post‐pandemic and half of Americans are starting to plan or have already booked a 2021 summer vacation. Marketers should be blending management and marketing to create a singular tourism experience.
Here are key steps to take.
Set your ambitions, act to achieve them and communicate what you’re doing.
Be clear with your ambitions in joining in and promoting sustainable tourism. You don’t need to have achieved your ambitions yet, but you do need to articulate your actions and determine what you need to do to get there.
Join a sanctioning organization like the Future of Tourism Coalition or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, or take steps to achieve the UN’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) accreditation.
Proactively communicate with tourists, local residents and the local business community about what you’re doing, how they too can help and how they could benefit from your efforts. And consider doing something big to connect with your target audience and differentiate from competitors.
In 2017, Vail Resorts announced its intention to achieve zero net emissions by 2030 and supported this goal with an extensive public relations effort.
Transform travelers from the problem into the solution.
According to Booking.com’s 2020 Sustainable Travel Insights, 82% of travelers think sustainable travel is important and 72% believe that travel companies should offer customers more sustainable travel choices.
And while these statistics are encouraging both ecologically and economically, many travelers don’t know how to go green or where to start. According to a National Geographic survey, only 15% of adults are sufficiently familiar with what sustainable travel actually means.
And 37% of travelers in the Booking.com report admit they don’t know how to make their travel more sustainable. Travelers clearly want to do better when they travel, but they need help to be sustainable. It’s in bridging this “good intentions gap” where marketers can play a critical role.
Rather than launch a generic campaign that just asks people to “be responsible” — which everyone can agree with and what you’re probably doing already — focus on recommending small behavior changes that can have an outsized impact.
To address the problem of overtourism, the Icelandic Tour Board put a sustainable lens on its existing “Inspired By Iceland” campaign. One component of this refresh was The Icelandic Pledge, a unique oath for tourists whereby they agree to respect Iceland's nature and to travel responsibly during their stay.
Among the pledges: “I will take photos to die for without dying for them” and “I will follow the road into the unknown, but never venture off the road.”
As part of the “Stay Wild” campaign, Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board urge visitors to replace the actual geographic location of their Instagram posts with “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild” to discourage people from following social media geotags.
This action helped reduce harmful traffic and unintended environmental harm to fragile nature areas, and also helped travelers stay on designated trails. At last count, the campaign had resulted in more than 900 million earned media impressions and demonstrated Jackson Hole’s leadership in sustainable travel.
Because of stress on the islands’ natural resources as a result of tourism, the Faroe Islands were “closed for maintenance, open for voluntourism” for two days in 2020.
All sites and attractions were only open to voluntourists and the locals who helped them perform tasks like maintaining paths, removing garbage and constructing signage.
The 11 sites that received help were determined by local citizens and farmers. For their commitment, the voluntourists were given free food and accommodations for three nights. The goal is to repeat and expand on this idea every year.
Make it easier to travel and explore responsibly in your market, from the ground up.
Tourism impacts all areas of the community, so think beyond your own industry by involving transportation authorities, energy partners, local farmers and others to find opportunities and reduce impact.
Organize and incentivize the local tourism community and local businesses to build more sustainable offerings, such as tours, accommodations, activities, menus and the like.
Costa Rica is an exceptional example of how successful sustainable tourism blends caring for the planet with creating a healthy local economy and actively seeking input from the local community. The country was awarded the United Nations’ highest environmental honor in 2019: UN Champion of the Earth.
It uses a remarkable 99.2% renewable energy and has seen massive tourism gains since 2019 due to ecotourism leadership. Costa Rica’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) rates businesses from 0 to 5 on green efforts and is recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which establishes and manages global standards for sustainable travel and tourism.
This year will offer more opportunities for travelers to reignite their traveling spirit. With your help, they’ll be able to reimagine it, too. Determine your ambition, work toward it and talk about it. Influence customer behavior by making small changes easy.
Partner with like‐minded individuals and groups to achieve greater strength in numbers and incentivize them to drive sustainability efforts.
All of these seemingly modest actions can result in a significant positive impact to promote sustainability and keep your destination accessible and beautiful for many years to come while building a strong economic foundation for the future.
Airlines are not prepared for the surge in travelers because they don't have enough planes - or pilots to fly them.
Business Insider / firstname.lastname@example.org (Thomas Pallini)
Many US carriers shed older aircraft from their fleets in a cash-saving effort during the worst times of the pandemic. At the time, vaccines a distant dream and travel demand wasn't expected to rebound for years.
"The airlines were being forced to make very complex decisions under enormous pressure," Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. "Key among them is: How do you bring your costs down to survive an approximately 96% decline in demand?"
But Southwest Airlines, after accelerating the retirement of 737-700 aircraft in 2020, is now saying that the airline's current fleet won't be enough to support the carrier's business model in the upcoming years and could hinder expansion efforts.
"We don't feel like we have enough airplanes for 2022 and 2023, and that's just doing what you know us to be famous for," Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive officer, CNBC, referring to its current business of mostly domestic flying.
Now that demand is ramping up, airlines might find themselves without enough planes to keep up and Southwest isn't the only airline that shed planes during the pandemic. Delta Air Lines similarly parted with three fleet types including the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80/MD-90, Boeing 737-700, and Boeing 777-200 series of aircraft.
Those aircraft now sit in storage facilities and bringing them back into service would be too great of an expense for airlines, according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for Teal Group. New builds from manufacturers, including the Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A220, are preferable but come at a slower rate.
The aircraft shortage is also compounded by the age-old pilot shortage, with not even pilots to fly the ambitious schedules that airlines have set. American Airlines saw the impacts of over-scheduling in mid-June when hundreds of flights were canceled in a single weekend thanks to a combination of labor shortages and severe weather.
"The pilot shortage that loomed over the industry in 2019 may have abated slightly, but it hasn't gone away," Harteveldt said.
Airlines moved to shed staff last year, including pilots and flight attendants, through buyouts and voluntary separation programs in a bid to lower costs. But just like with aircraft, some may have parted ways with too many now that demand is rebounding.
"Perhaps they had lost more pilots and flight attendants than they otherwise would have wanted and as a result, that may have reduced their ability to scale up their flying as demand returned," Harteveldt said.
Shortages stemming from massive staff reductions also could've been avoided since airlines were the recipients of three rounds of federal stimulus money.
"I think that the airlines would probably admit — privately if not on the record — that perhaps they should have been less aggressive in encouraging employees to the pilots and flight attendants to take buyouts and leave the company when the government was going to cover 70% of those employees' wages," Harteveldt said.
Delta has committed to hire and train 1,000 new pilots between now and next summer and United has launched a pilot training program, Aviate, that provides financing options and a pathway to flying its aircraft for students.
Airline schedules are now highly unreliable and travelers booking flights should be prepared for unexpected changes or cancellations. Changes to airline schedules can occur anytime and travelers should frequently be checking their bookings to see if changes have occurred.
If an airline has changed a traveler's trip, they have the right to request a new flight or even a refund if the change is great enough.
Jennifer Leigh Parker
Contributor Forbes Magazine June 7th 2021.
A confluence of technology, government cooperation and medical expertise came together to keep Parrot Cay open during the pandemic.
Here’s how they did it:
“Do you want to see something crazy? Look here.”
Jimmy the tour guide plunges his bare hand down into crystal clear saltwater to grab the silky tail of a baby nurse shark, who's been gliding under the shade of wild mangroves all morning, munching its way through a live buffet of conch shells and spiny sea urchin, entirely nonplussed by the presence of our large and lumbering kayaks. Luckily, the shark swims away too quickly for Jimmy, who has better luck snatching slimy jellyfish and pissing sea slugs up from their sleepy sandbar for the show-and-tell portion of our tropical eco-tour.
More plentiful in wildlife and wonder than any man-made aquarium, the turquoise channels, mangrove-shaded flats, and shallow reefs surrounding the 40 Turks and Caicos islands possess a staggering natural beauty unmatched, in my view, by any other Caribbean atoll.
Beyond beauty, these islands also claim the most coveted attribute in the post-Covid world: relative safety. The British overseas territory’s competent containment of coronavirus allowed the country to reopen to international visitors last July. As of this publication, according to the country’s tourism board, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the Turks and Caicos is one. Since the onset of the pandemic, the country has reported 2,421 total cases of Covid-19. For the risk-averse international traveler, this is about as safe as it’s going to get.
Located 575 miles south-east of Miami, where the unmasked and unruly still plague the sweaty flip-flop of an international airport and its pandemic-weary staff, a true escape awaits. It’s called COMO Parrot Cay, the private island-turned-resort owned by Singapore’s billionaire power couple Christina Ong and Ong Beng Seng. Nestled between thick groves of sea grapes, beneath the shade of coconut palms and royal poinciana trees, this colonial estate is spread out alongside four miles of soft white sand and turquoise waters as far as the eye can see. With 45 airy, white-on-Balinese wood rooms and suites and nine private beach houses, social distancing is literally built into the experience. Want to book a private dinner on your own stretch of beach, or snorkel all day without seeing another soul? It’s not a problem.
The catch is getting here.
You’ve got to cut through a lot of required red tape, including in-person doctor visits to administer mail order PCR tests (which must be taken within five days of arrival). You must purchase travel insurance which covers COVID-19 medical costs and full hospitalization, doctors’ visits, prescriptions, and air ambulance costs — but not necessarily accommodations (coverage amounts vary depending on which of these 13 listed providers you choose). You must also submit a government application via the “TCI Assured Portal” for approval before even thinking about which bathing suits and summer novels to pack.
It all makes for a stressful few days before takeoff, but generally speaking, this is the reality of international travel post-Covid. You should expect a gauntlet of pandemic pre-screenings and ad-hoc regulations, and the Turks are no exception. At some point in the process, you’re going to wonder whether all the prep is worth it. It is, and then some. Each hurdle you have to jump makes the experience seem all the more safe and secure once you arrive — because everyone in your 6-foot radius has been jumping hurdles too.
This kind of trip also has a major impact on the local economy and resort staff, many of whom are born and bred islanders. “I got my first shot on Jan 13th, because the government considered tourism employees essential workers. Tourism is really the only source of economy here. When the country reopened in July, Americans were tired of lock down and Europe wasn’t an option. But what really helped us reopen was our ‘we’re in this together’ approach,” said Atilla Cimsit, a hospitality-industry veteran now working as COMO Parrot Cay’s director of guest experience.
Sitting on the sun-baked balcony of the resort’s modern Italian restaurant, Cimsit explained how he kept every single employee on the payroll (327 staffers, including 127 on Parrot Cay, and about 200 in North Caicos and Providenciales), and how restricting capacity to a maximum of 50 guests helped keep Covid at bay. It’s a rare success story after a year marked by catastrophic devastation for the travel industry. But by April 2021, COMO Parrot Cay was booking the “best revenues in the resort’s history.”
Build tech to screen incoming passengers — This doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘hi-tech.’ It just has to be workable, coherent, and applicable to all parties involved. That’s why, prior to the building of the website, government officials met with the tourism association to prepare for the country’s reopening. “As our members make up the vast majority of the local resorts and villas on the islands, the government requested protocol suggestions from [us],” confirmed Sonia Simmons, communications manager for the Turks and Caicos’ Hotel & Tourism Association. The result is the TCI Assured Portal, developed by Amber Innovations Limited and owned by the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. In this case, cooperation and communication made reopening possible.
Provide on-property Covid tests — By partnering with Grace Bay Medical in neighboring Providenciales, COMO Parrot Cay received government approval to perform antigen tests on property. This became necessary after the U.S. and UK announced pre-arrival testing requirements where travelers must show proof of a negative viral test administered within three days of travel. Now COMO Parrot Cay is one of the 12 licensed antigen testing sites in the Turks and Caicos. Grace Bay medical staff administer the tests and process the paperwork while the resort provides guest rooms solely used as clinics for testing.
Rotate staff in case of quarantine — Adopt a Team A and Team B mentality, especially in restaurants. If someone tests positive, the entire team needs to be taken out of operation for a period of quarantine, while the other team sterilizes the premises and moves in. For this to go smoothly, it helps if management reserves a few guest rooms for just-in-case quarantines, which safeguard both guests and staff.
Avoid layoffs at all costs — Anyone with a critical eye will scoff at this measure. Of course a billionaire-owned resort can avoid layoffs. I feel you, but when pent-up travel demand hits hotels, as is already happening, it really helps to have experienced, qualified staff able to hit the ground running. “When we come out, we’re going to need every team member to perform. We didn’t have to worry about bringing new people in and training them. It was easy to get back to normal, and everyone still wears a mask,” adds Cimsit.
Regardless of where you choose to stay in the Turks and Caicos, be it the basic singles favorite Club Med in Provo, COMO Parrot Cay for the healthy food and great spa, Amanyara for the peace and quiet, or the new Ritz-Carlton (opening in Grace Bay this July) — the main draw is the sheer beauty of the place and its people.
Take Jimmy, for example. A born and bred islander, he’s worked for COMO Hotels and Resorts for 15 years. He knows everything there is to know about the flora and fauna of this place, from the best fishing holes for bonefish to the warmest resting rocks for curly-tailed lizards. There isn’t a mangrove channel in these parts he hasn’t fished by hand, and he can tell you pretty much anything about these islands you could possibly want to know. Now, he’s building his own house on North Caicos island. Like so many of the COMO staffers, who are noticeably good at what they do, you can’t help but be happy for him.
June 21, 2021
AUA Airport’s air seat capacity climb continues as airlines continue to build summer network to meet growing demand.
Airlines to add over 125 flights to June and July AUA Airport flight schedules.
ORANJESTAD – Aruba Airport Authority N.V. (AAA), company that manages and operates Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA Airport) reports the following traffic highlights:
According to schedules from Cirium combined with CAPA Fleet Database seat configurations, AUA Airport Flight Schedules (translated into air seat capacity) for 3rd quarter and early winter 2021-2022 are still showing recovery rates of 83% and 94% of 2019 levels.
The statistics represent AUA Airport’s quarterly seat capacity (released on June 7, 2021) by region. Note that schedules filed by airlines for the rest of the summer are regularly being trimmed.
Latin America continues to have the deepest cut among the regions. Nevertheless, it continues a modestly improving trend since the period between mid-April and late May. With Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia having the highest number of cases in South America.
Overall Air Seat Capacity is likely to be at 80% of pre-pandemic levels between June and September, rising to 94% between November and December, depending on the success of the Latin America’s vaccine program and multi-speed travel market recovery, with overall winter traffic potentially at 75-100%.
Summer 2020 | Schedule Highlights:
FLIGHT SCHEDULES (AIRPORTARUBA.COM)
"The demand environment is unquestionably positive with our airlines adding new destinations and capacity by increasing the frequency of flights. We are confident that we will see a return to relative high volumes in that key July, August, September third quarter”; AUA Airport’s Air Service Development Manager Mrs. Jo-Anne Meaux-Arends.
KRISTIN MAJCHER Fortune Magazine June 21, 2021
This story is part of The Path to Zero, a series of special reports on how business can lead the fight against climate change. This quarter's stories go in-depth on sustainability in supply chains.
The luxurious and laid-back Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba has been singled out by TripAdvisor as the most romantic hotel in the Caribbean for six years running. But you might never guess that the adults-only retreat, with 104 elegant, modern rooms, is also one of the most sustainable hotels in the world.
That’s because more than 20 years ago, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort owner Ewald Biemans found himself in an uncomfortable situation: A German guest at the Aruba hotel became upset when staff served him beer in a single-use plastic cup instead of a reusable container.
The reaction stuck with Biemans, a 75-year-old environmentalist who decided to ban single-use plastics and styrofoam shortly after. Since opening Bucuti & Tara in 1987, Biemans has been relentlessly focused on making it as environmentally friendly as possible—to the point where it remains the only hotel in the Caribbean boasting a carbon-neutral certification.
Bucuti & Tara is one of a growing number of hotels focused on natural resources, as travelers and investors increasingly seek more information about how hotels approach sustainability and how their trips impact the environment.
From small boutiques to large chains, hotels all over the world are setting goals to not only cut down on water, electricity, and waste but also seek out suppliers that follow the same guidelines.
Yet a lack of clear standards when it comes to defining sustainability in supply chains can leave travelers confused about how these efforts compare to those of competitors, how these standards are regulated, and their overall impact on the environment. To solve this, hotels are increasingly seeking third-party certifications to audit their operations in addition to setting their own goals.
“Our data is showing that [customers are] voting with not just their wallets, but with their wallets and their value sets,” said Kristin Campbell, Hilton Worldwide’s general counsel and chief ESG officer.
Travelers’ interest in the environment has been growing steadily for years, but hotel executives say the pandemic was an inflection point inspiring people to reflect on their own role in climate change.
According to a recent Booking.com survey of more than 29,000 travelers spanning 30 countries, 83% said sustainability is important, while 61% reported that the pandemic has inspired them to travel more sustainably. In 2021, 81% of travelers surveyed said they intended to stay in a “sustainable accommodation” at least once in the coming year, compared with 74% in 2020 and only 62% in 2016. And 76% said they would seek out places to stay with a third-party sustainability certification from a reputable source.
“The pandemic created time and space where people weren’t traveling to think about travel in a different way,” Denise Naguib, Marriott International’s vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity, said in an interview. Naguib notes corporate clients also want to keep the momentum going after seeing their travel-related carbon emissions drop during the pandemic.
As major companies set more aggressive targets around metrics like carbon emissions, water, and waste, they are also working to ensure their suppliers understand those goals as well, Naguib added.
A world of certifications
Hotels largely call the shots when it comes to their supply chains, but they’re increasingly turning to third-party certifications to standardize and add global prestige to their efforts.
These voluntary certifications, which may apply specifically to hospitality companies or span several industries, can have varying degrees of strictness. They largely tend to focus on operational areas like reducing water and energy consumption, but also address broader goals like sustainable sourcing and impact on the local community.
The most rigorous and well-respected sustainability certifications in tourism are in line with standards managed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a U.S.-based nonprofit launched under its current name in 2010. One of the most well-known certifications is Green Globe, which requires hotels’ purchasing policies to favor environmentally friendly products.
Denmark-based Green Key, which has its label on more than 3,200 hospitality businesses mainly based in Europe, built extensive purchasing guidelines into its latest criteria. These include ensuring at least 75% of daily cleaning products have an ecolabel, along with shower amenities like soap and shampoo. At least half of food and beverage products must be organic, fair trade, carry an ecolabel, or be locally sourced.
Another important certification is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which played a key role in Bucuti & Tara’s path to becoming carbon neutral in 2018. While the hotel said it has been working for all of its 33 years to offer a responsible travel experience, retrofitting its building to meet LEED standards played a pivotal role. It also holds a host of other certifications, including Green Globe Platinum, ISO 14001 for environmental management, ISO 9001 for quality standards, and Travelife Gold.
A certification is like a road map for how to be sustainable, Biemans said, with each focusing on its own area. Green Globe is very community oriented, for example, while LEED focuses on buildings and requires the hotel to comply with rules for using products like green cleaning supplies, he said. All of these can help a hotel show it is serious about sustainability.
“The certifications we are talking about are actually certifications that prove you put your money where your mouth is,” Biemans said.
For years, eco-lodges and nature hotels have pioneered practices like using locally grown food, avoiding plastic bottles via on-site water sources, and educating consumers about the local environment. Often, travelers actively seek out these experiences. For example, Maui Eco Retreat in Hawaii encourages visitors to drink water from its well, support local farmers’ markets, and learn about composting—all while requiring a five-night minimum stay to help guests connect with the surrounding landscapes.
But larger hotels are still working to strike a balance between pleasing customers and also guiding them toward more sustainable choices. For example, Marriott bans certain types of seafood in its kitchen because of issues like overfishing but would still honor a guest’s request to have their sheets changed every day.
“We get some mixed messages from our guests,” Hilton’s Campbell said. For example, travelers haven’t been complaining much about the chain’s decision to use paper-based straws after banning plastic ones in 2018, but more times than not still leave towels on the floor despite the signs indicating they can save water by hanging them up.
Increasingly, many hotels are seeing value in adding these certifications, which provide more credibility and transparency to their sustainability efforts. Marriott International has a goal for its more than 7,000 hotels to achieve third-party certifications covering operations or buildings by 2025. So far, 36% have sustainability certifications.
Carlos Martin-Rios, associate professor at the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland, thinks that both hotels and consumers are taking a pragmatic view of certifications.
Hotels want to show customers they care about the environment, and travelers want to see that the hotels have done something about it—even if they don’t know exactly what that might be. He predicts it will take some time for these ecolabels to consolidate, in part because some hotels could use some of the less-rigorous ones as a shortcut.
“Many hotels want to jump into sustainability without doing all the homework,” said Martin-Rios.
As travelers start looking for more information about hotels’ environmental record, these certifications are becoming more noticeable on booking platforms.
Netherlands-based Booking.com shows which hotels have more than 30 certifications meeting criteria from GSTC, the U.K.-based Green Tourism, and the EU Ecolabel. It has also prompted hundreds of thousands of properties to share sustainability information. This builds on efforts from niche sites like EcoHotels.com, which started operating in 2020 to give eco-conscious travelers an alternative to the big online booking sites. The website shows only hotels certified based on GSTC’s framework.
Certifications are not just for marketing purposes, with research showing an impact on operations too. A study from German tourism behemoth TUI Group, whose companies include more than 400 hotels, 1,000 travel agencies, five airlines, and 15 cruise liners, said that its hotels with sustainability certifications outperformed non-certified ones. In a study of 300 hotels, those certified recorded 10% lower carbon dioxide emissions, 24% lower waste volume, and 19% less fresh water usage for each guest on a nightly basis.
And yet, travelers are still often confused about what the term “eco” means in the hotel space because of a lack of strictly enforced standards around the world.
“It’s a massive problem, globally,” said GSTC CEO Randy Durband, noting there is a lot of confusion among travelers about sustainability labels and what constitutes an eco-hotel.
Holding hotels accountable
Hotels are still largely taking the initiative to set and report on their own climate goals, and in turn decide how it addresses suppliers in that journey.
“I don’t think anyone’s holding hotels accountable, if you will, for what we’re doing in the supply chain, Marriott’s Naguib said, speaking of sustainability initiatives. “We have recognized that this is an important element for our business, and we want to be part of the solution.”
Marriott has a 2025 goal to locally source 50% of its produce, and to also use “responsible” sourcing for 95% of the products it buys in 10 areas like animal products, bottled water, cleaning supplies, seafood, and coffee. Picking commodities that have an ecolabel, such as paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, helps to inform this process.
Hilton, which is working on 2030 goals using science-based targets, relies on a management system it created in 2009 called LightStay to track environmental and social goals. Campbell said the hotel chain has calculated that it reduced carbon emissions about 56% and saw a 47% decrease in water and energy usage and a 73% drop in landfill waste since using it. The hotel also recently partnered with sustainability ratings company EcoVadis to perform sustainability risk assessments and gap analyses for its supply chain.
Aruba’s Bucuti & Tara has also done a meticulous job of tracking data. As the first hotel to win the Global UN Climate Action Award in the “Climate Neutral Now” category, the hotel chain is 90% paperless and buys purchases in bulk that it sends to an offsite warehouse to cut down on deliveries. It tries to source items locally wherever possible.
Hotels could eventually feel a bigger push from regulators looking more broadly at how companies plan to operate in light of climate change. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for example, recently created a climate and ESG task force and is under pressure from groups like the Sierra Club to tighten up disclosure rules about the impact companies have on the environment.
But for many smaller hotels focused on sustainability, supplier relationships still largely come down to trust. Liutauras Vaitkevicius, asset manager for London’s Zetter Hotel Group, which touts its “pioneering eco-credentials,” said the company focuses on serving seasonal menus from trusted local vendors. But it can’t be there to see how fishermen caught every fish coming into the restaurant.
“We’re committed, but we can’t 100% promise that each and every item on the menu is going to be sustainable,” he said.
GREG BEARUP The Weekend Australian Magazine
June 18, 2021
11 MINUTE READ
Cyclists tackle Derby’s mountain bike trails.
When the eggheads at the Australian Bureau of Statistics hunch over their Casios and crunch the Census figures this year they’ll surely reckon there’s been some sort of data blunder as they tap in the stats for the tiny town of Derby, in the mountains of northeast Tasmania. Last time they looked, six years ago, Derby was a two-pub-one-banjo town of 173 people where you’d be lucky to stumble across a decent pie. Nothing much had happened there since the tin mine closed in 1948. With an unemployment rate north of 20 per cent, when the national figure was south of seven, it was a dirt-poor town in Australia’s least affluent state. The median weekly household income was just $556 – $882 below the national average. With a median age of 58, its residents were, on average, two decades older than the rest of the country.
Tim Watson, general manager of the local Dorset Council, says Derby had “two feet in the grave”. Things were bleak; when its last remaining store closed, the council began subsidising staples and selling them at the town’s mining museum as many of the residents couldn’t afford to travel to the next town for milk and bread and other daily essentials. And then came the resurrection – a godsend for the whole of northeast Tasmania.
In 2015, just before the last Census, the first in a series of high-quality mountain bike trails was quietly opened by the council in the stunning rainforested hills above Derby. Word spread that they’d created something special and cyclists began arriving from the mainland. Things started to snowball. More trails were built. In 2017 Derby hosted a leg of the Enduro World Series, a premier mountain bike event in which the world’s 50 best riders were competing. These elite riders voted Derby the best trail in the world. Cyclists started flying in from around the globe.
I first visited in 2017, early in this metamorphosis, and it was as though the place was awakening from a long slumber. Four years later it has blossomed and it now has the zing and the vigour of a bustling alpine ski village. It’s a frontier town and the air is fresh with the sweet scent of opportunity. Down on Lake Derby, on the edge of town, Australia’s first floating sauna was recently opened and weary cyclists and hikers now pay $45 an hour to relax in the steaming-hot cabins before plunging into the icy waters of the lake. It’s been a raging success. Derby is now the sort of place where young folk happily spend their gap year, working as guides or bike mechanics.
Watson says the council recently did a rough survey, counting all the jobs that had been created just in Derby’s town centre. They came up with 120. Hundreds more people have been employed throughout the district. Every available house in and around Derby has been tarted up and turned into a holiday rental. It’s gone from basket case to boom town and now there’s plenty of work for anyone who wants it. The council has never had to do a detailed survey to measure the trails’ economic impact because, says Watson, “it’s so bloody obvious, we’ve never had to justify it to anyone”.
The local property boom leaves even Sydney in its dust. Andrew Bennett, an agent in the nearby service town of Scottsdale, says prior to the trails opening he had a house in Derby on his books that was impossible to sell. It had been on the market for three years for the bargain price of $125,000. As soon as the trails opened he had three people elbowing each other to buy it. “The owners were just happy to sell… it’d be worth somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 now,” he says. All across Derby, ramshackle miners’ cottages have been transformed into upscale accommodation. A makeshift caravan park has popped up by the river and the town now has more than 300 accommodation beds. At the last Census it had only 10, and they were rarely slept in.
Tens of thousands of mountain bikers now travel to Tasmania each year to cycle the trails, spending many tens of millions of dollars, and the effects are being felt right across the northeast of the state, particularly in Launceston, which is the main entry point for those flying in. Chris McNally is a co-owner of the boutique hotel Stillwater Seven and its adjoining restaurant Stillwater, which sit at the mouth of Cataract Gorge on the Tamar River at Launceston. McNally says each week a couple of groups of mountain bikers stay in the seven-suite hotel. “The cycling has really showcased the entire area,” he says. “It’s incredible what they have done up there.” The constant stream of tourists flying in to go cycling has been a boon for Stillwater and its sister restaurant, Black Cow Bistro, which had two sittings fully booked on the midweek nights we visited.
Late in 2019 another 110km of tracks, costing about $4 million, were opened in the neighbouring Break O’Day Council, linking the mountain trails of Derby to the coast around St Helens. One of those newly opened tracks, Bay of Fires, runs 42km from the mountains through some of Tasmania’s most spectacular rainforest and ends on the beaches and those famous orange-glowing granite rocks. It is surely a front runner for The World’s Most Magnificent Mountain Bike Trail.
The Derby trails.
Mountain biking has overtaken golf in popularity in Tasmania, according to Chris Griffin, CEO of Visit Northern Tasmania. “It is almost as strong as multi-day walking in terms of things people do when they come to Tassie,” he says. “It’s been an amazing success story… both Derby and St Helens have just had record visitations.”
Griffin says one of the unexpected consequences of the trails has been a cycling renaissance among locals. Tasmania is now producing some of the world’s best young mountain bikers and there’s been an explosion of people taking up the sport. “The most common sight in Launceston now is cars with racks full of bikes,” he says. “The uptake of mountain biking by local kids has meant many parents have been back in the saddle for the first time since their school days, riding with their kids.”
In 2019 – the last consistent statistical year before Covid – 69,314 people travelled from the mainland to go mountain biking in Derby, Griffin says. They spent on average $250 a day and stayed in Tasmania an average of seven days. Those cyclists spent more than $120 million in the state. Since then, the tracks at St Helens have opened and the numbers have grown.
The Museum of Old and New Art completely changed the fortunes of Hobart and the image of Tasmania when it opened in 2011. The trails of Derby and St Helens are Tassie’s other MONA.
Launceston woman Tara Howell and her husband Steve quit their jobs when they were 23 and 25 respectively to pursue their crazy-brave dream of starting a luxury mountain bike venture in Tasmania. Tara was working in a corporate marketing job, having paid her way through university by working as a guide for luxury adventure tourism companies, taking hikers on the Overland Track and Bay of Fires walk. Steve was a mechanic who’d grown up with a love for the Tasmanian bush and was a keen mountain biker. Early in their relationship they promised each other they’d lead an adventurous life together.
A couple of years before the opening of the Derby trails they met with Dorset Council’s GM, Tim Watson, who outlined his grand plans for mountain biking to revive the fortunes of the district. They were impressed with Watson’s drive and vision. “Having been a walking guide, I had what I thought was a good understanding of the market for luxury adventure tourism,” says Tara. “There was no one doing luxury adventure mountain biking. We believed that the same people doing the luxury walking tours would also be into mountain biking. We thought it would be big… all around the world the popularity of mountain biking was just exploding.” They rolled the dice and bet everything they had on a hunch. Everyone told them they were crazy, or damned them with fake enthusiasm. They pressed on. They put in a detailed proposal and were awarded a $500,000 federal government business development grant; unable to lure investors, they then managed to convince a bank to lend them $1 million. In 2017, after four years of hard slog – including getting the necessary approvals to build accommodation in the middle of a forest in a regional reserve – they opened Blue Derby Pods Ride, luxury accommodation for a maximum of eight cyclists, hidden away in the trees above Derby.
“We were completely naive,” Tara says now of their youthful exuberance. She’s just turned 31 and has a 16-month-old son, Winton. “I probably wouldn’t do it now. You really need to do it when you are young and you haven’t got debt, you haven’t got kids, you haven’t got any baggage – you just do it. You’ve got nothing to lose.”
In the how-to book for successful rural and regional development, the golden rule must be to make your town an attractive place for young people like Steve and Tara Howell to live. They are the fire in the belly of regional revival. Tara says that had it not been for the Derby trails she and Steve would probably have left Tasmania to look for opportunities on the mainland or abroad. Instead they stayed and built a successful business that now employs 20 full-time and part-time cooks, guides and cleaners – the equivalent of eight to 10 full-time staff. A huge consumer of gourmet Tasmanian produce, it is a business built on giving its guests the best of everything Tasmania has to offer – beers, pastries, wine, cheese, rainforests, guides, pickles, beaches, mountain bike trails, oysters, bikes, views… “Basically, at every touchpoint we are trying to blow people’s minds,” says Steve.
One morning we rise early and, towing a trailer full of bikes, we are driven to the summit of Blue Tier, a range of hills halfway between Derby and St Helens that rises to a summit of 859m. It’s a beautiful sunny day with a nip in the air and we set off for the first kilometre or so along a rocky ridge line with our destination, the coast, far on the horizon. The trail is tricky and rocky but immaculately maintained. We drop off the mountain into a forest of ferns that feels prehistoric. The track is what mountain bikers refer to as “flowy” – like a smooth rollercoaster. In parts it’s also challenging – at one point I lose control and end up over the handlebars in the dirt, as does almost everyone in our group at some point.
We enter a stand of Eucalyptus regnans, the world’s tallest flowering plant, and stop to admire these whales of the forest. The riding is mainly downhill but there is still a fair amount of up and I’m glad to be riding a new, state-of-the-art electric mountain bike – it’s like I’ve swallowed a schooner of Lance Armstrong Lager before setting off. We pop out of the rainforests and into the coastal hinterland of granite, sandy soils and open eucalypt forests – an incredible cross section of the Tasmanian landscape. Even with electrical assistance 42km is a long mountain bike ride so it’s a welcome relief when we smell the ocean, cruise down to a secluded beach on the Bay of Fires and plunge into the crisp, clear water.
After we towel off, a picnic meal prepared by chef Tom Dicker is laid out on those famous firey granite rocks – local oysters, freshly caught octopus cooked with chorizo and spuds, scallops in lemon and dill butter, all washed down with local Pirie sparkling wine and pale ale from Little Rivers Brewing Co. If I was to tally up the best days of my life, this one would make the finals.
Accommodation in Derby.
When Steve and Tara were setting up their business they thought it would appeal to people in their 30s and 40s riding “analogue bikes” – without electric motors. Surprisingly, the average age has been 53 and about half the clients are on electric bikes. Husbands ride with their wives, mothers cycle with their sons. “There’s so much desire for people to challenge themselves, especially when they are in their 40s and 50s,” Steve says. “They want to be free and jump on the bike and roar down a mountain like they used to when they were a kid.”
It is also a deeply personal experience. There’s something about being out in nature, at the edge of your comfort zone, that triggers intense emotions. Our 19-year-old guide Charlie Edis, who is spending part of his gap year at Derby, says he’s had middle-aged businessmen sobbing on his shoulder, dissatisfied with the direction of their lives.
It’s been a game-changer for St Helens, too. Brendan Watmore, from tourism analytics company Tourist Tracka, says an analysis of mobile phone data shows there was a 50 per cent increase in the number of Victorians visiting St Helens in the year to January. “Not only are more Victorians travelling, but we saw an increase of 200 per cent from higher socio-economic groups,” he says. “These higher-value travellers are the most attractive to destination marketers because they spend more money on their experiences and tend to stay for longer and see more places.”
Jayne Richardson, from Break O’Day Council, says businesses in the St Helens area report takings are up 50 per cent compared with previous years. She says it’s usual for staff to be laid off during winter but “the businesses we surveyed last winter had put on staff – it was incredible”. And when it was announced the new trails would be built, $15 million worth of new investment in tourism ventures were lodged with the council – new cabins at the caravan parks, motels being renovated, two new bike shops, pubs dolled up…
Richardson says there’s been an influx of young people into the shire and a quarter of new residents nominated the opening of the mountain bike trails as one of the major factors influencing their decision to move. St Helens, it seems, is about to do a Derby.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.