Despite its negative outcomes, the current COVID-19 pandemic provides emerging opportunities for transforming tourist destinations towards local communities, increasing destination resilience, and preparing tourist destinations for the next major disruptions (Sigala, 2020). First of all, it is necessary to shift the emphasis of destination management from attracting additional visitors to improving local residents’ well-being. It can be done by introducing new data-driven social, psychological, and engineering metrics of tourism impacts; modeling economic, social, environmental, and psychological outcomes of tourism development; and developing recommendations for different types of tourist destinations. The current pandemic situation makes it also possible to investigate residents’ outcomes progressively at different stages of tourism development as tourism destinations will reopen and attract more visitors. The optimal level of tourism for each type of destination can be determined based on the maximum positive impacts on residents’ quality of life, health, and well-being.
Second, taking into account the experiential nature of tourism activities (Godovykh & Tasci, 2020; Hosany et al., 2015), it is necessary to develop virtual tourism experiences and promote virtual tourism destinations that will satisfy tourist’s need for travel experiences during crises, outbreaks, and potentially increase the resilience of travel destinations. The concept of virtual destinations might include any type of computer-generated travel experience, which provides tourists an opportunity to view, immerse, and control the environment (Guttentag, 2010). Virtual destinations will help to control visitation to the overdeveloped destinations by providing opportunities to receive alternative virtual experiences, as well as provide new business opportunities for tourism providers in challenging times such as global pandemics. Virtual tourism experiences will also provide opportunities for vulnerable categories of people, who cannot visit the real destinations, including low-income categories and people with disabilities.
Third, tourists’ flaws should be distributed from most visited locations to other places within travel destinations after the end of the COVID-19 outbreak. Several tracking techniques will be pretested to receive information on visitors’ behavior based on the analysis of positioning data, geolocation devices, user-generated data, and the analysis of specific sites in a tourist destination (Padrón-Ávila & Hernández-Martín, 2020). Using the space-time information will help to explore visitors’ movement patterns, tourism density, congestion issues, and other tourism indicators at different parts of destinations. The proposed data integration will provide opportunities to allocate tourism flows to a different time or reduce tourists’ flows to certain locations of destinations in order to improve the quality of life, health, and well-being of local people.
Finally, using some insights from behavioral economics might help destinations to nudge sustainable tourists’ behavior and minimize the negative impacts of visitors on local communities. Behavioral economics is supposed to use psychological insights to explain people’s behavior (Ariely, 2009). The research shows that tourists behave differently while traveling in comparison with their behavior at home, including excessive consumption, destroying nature, engaging in illegal activities, etc. (Tarlow, 2014). At the same time, tourists’ behavior might be positively influenced by behavioral intentions, such as the effects of expectations, peak-end rule, or the tendency for reciprocity (Park et al., 2018). The Nudge theory suggests that the decision-making process and human behavior might be nudged by indirect suggestions and positive reinforcement (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Therefore, it is important for the management of tourist destinations to identify the desired tourists’ behavior, analyze it through the lens of behavioral economics, design and pretest behavioral insights, and develop new policies aimed at nudging tourists’ sustainable behavior and improving the quality of life and well-being of local communities.
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