PRE-COVID - Covid - post-Covid. A progression of conditions and circumstances, of health and economies, of society’s needs, demands and wishes, of consumer behaviour. The progression is linear. It moves from one state to the next, apparently seamlessly but at the same time on a scale of massive disruption and all in a comparative blink of an eye in historical terms. These rapid steps alter conditions on what is a straight line of progression and foster the post-Covid era, one in which linearity is debunked and is supplanted by circularity. Covid is transformational and definitively so.
The Fundación Impulsa is part think-tank, part implementer. A public-private collaboration, its essential purpose is to advance competitiveness in the Balearics, and fundamental to this advance is the role of the islands’ premier industry - tourism. The foundation’s post-Covid vision is one of comprehensive tourism transformation towards a “circular tourism system” that will reposition the Balearics and enable new leadership by formulating projects with high transformative potential.
Applied economists come out with this sort of stuff. The foundation’s technical director is an applied economist from the University of the Balearic Islands. His faculty has been responsible over the years for some first-class research into tourism, so I in no way wish to diminish the work and thinking of Antoni Riera and others.
However, and you would have sensed a “however” coming on, this worthy contemplation of post-Covid circularity leaves me wondering quite what the application genuinely is, why it is considered to be so transformational and why the Balearics should somehow assume leadership.
It’s not as though Covid - post-Covid on the line of progression has suddenly elevated circularity. The concept, when stripped back to the basics of reuse, has been around for more or less ever.
The move away from a linear economy of take-make-dispose to a circular one which replaces dispose with reuse and recycle (and also possibly take with borrow) has been developing for some considerable time - the Chinese adopted this as a strategy almost twenty years ago. So, there is nothing new, other than the fact that post-Covid will hasten circularity.
Covid - post-Covid is proving to be fertile territory for envisioning a brave new world in which pre-Covid is cast aside. Tourism is but one aspect to which attention has been turned in highlighting and analysing “megatrends”, a word that Antoni Riera has himself coined.
The 2020 falling-off-the-cliff of tourism has given many the lockdown space to foresee post-Covid, whether this be - as examples - a rejection of crowded tourist resorts in favour of quieter locations or proximity versus distance in terms of travel. At the heart of much of this imagining is the belief in consumer consciousness - enhanced responsibility, greater appreciation of the environments to which people travel, more empathy with the communities they visit, and so on.
This may well prove to be the case, but post-Covid will represent a reinforcement, not a change, as these attitudes have been gathering pace for many years. However, while it seems undeniable that many, probably most travellers are far more aware than was once the case and are also more demanding of the responsibilities of hotels, tour operators and others, these post-Covid assumptions are generalised.
They are predicated, it seems to me, on some form of idealised model of tourist and consumer. The visions can appear to neglect the basic simplicities of tourism, especially that type of tourism which descends on Mallorca’s resorts. Ease-of-travel, good accommodation, clean beaches, nice restaurants, friendly terraces for a beer, things for the kids ... .
The hope for recovery, the real hope, is that tourist numbers will at some point bounce back to the almost 84 million foreign visitors who came to Spain in 2019 and to the 10.2 million foreign visitors who came to Mallorca. How do the post-Covid megatrends genuinely fit in with this hope? What does a “circular tourism system” mean for ten million people, all with their attitudes, their wishes, their holiday money to spend?
Waste is a very clear element of circularity, and there is no greater waste than that of food. I dread to think how much food is wasted by all-inclusive hotels, so are we saying that the all-inclusive is to become a thing of the past? Many would cheer if it were to be, but the model doesn’t seem destined to be abandoned. Crisis has typically led to greater demand, not less.
All-inclusive is only an example. But meanwhile, the anticipation is of European Next Generation funds transforming tourism into a virtuous circle of circularity allied to digital technologies and new-born sustainability. Lofty ideals, but let’s not be kidded. Mallorca needs all those people to come back, and they surely will be back whether they are imbued with supposed post-Covid consciousness or not.