Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many cities were grappling with strong increases in visitor numbers which had resulted in a phenomenon that was widely being described as ‘overtourism’. This was partly attributed to budget airlines, Airbnb, problems of tourist (mis)behaviour within the night-time economy, as well as a lack of planning, investment and general mismanagement. Numerous case studies abounded within the academic literature that offered both examples and solutions. This was followed by more conceptual contributions that debated degrowth, tourism transformations, mobilities, city hospitality, placemaking and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on urban tourism, and this requires yet another shift in conceptual thinking and applied measures. In this context cities provide interesting spaces in which to experiment and innovate, not least because they already provide a home for thousands of residents whose leisure patterns and quality of life have also been severely disrupted in recent months. Those who were deeply concerned about overtourism pre-COVID may now be lamenting the lack of economic opportunities and the income that tourism provided. Nevertheless, it is not desirable to return to the levels of unsustainable growth and disregard for resident wellbeing that existed previously. The travel behaviour of visitors will surely change, at least in the short term, as they are less inclined to visit crowded places and to gather in large groups. This may reduce urban tourism as whole or it might change the distribution of visitors from major attractions to less visited areas. Such a development could be positive, in that it provides areas with new opportunities for value creation, allows cities to develop a more diverse portfolio of options, which may make them more resilient, and fits with trends such as creative tourism and ‘New Urban Tourism’. It could also provide residents with a greater variety of leisure activities and experiences within their own city. Indeed, several DMOs promoted such intra-city tourism as a means to support the visitor economy during the pandemic, also with an eye on stimulating residents to become prouder of their city. At the same time such a development may have negative effects. If tourism is developed in a way that does not fit the locality and residential functions are replaced with those aimed at visitors.
This event seeks to provide some recommendations for future developments and new directions in both leisure and urban tourism post COVID 19. These may relate to product development, experience creation, visitor flow management, sustainable planning, smart solutions or other relevant themes. In particular we are interested in what may be put under the umbrella of ‘off-the-beaten track’ experiences and how they might contribute to the quality of life and experience in cities. Also, we invite scholars to think about tourism in relation to wider urban developments, rather than as a singular economic sector. Questions could relate to the expectations and desires that host communities have from tourism, tourist motivations, governance, participative planning and network structures, as well as the design of tourism experiences that support local issues and processes.