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NEWS The tourism industry is one of the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But the reality that many Swedes will not travel abroad this summer can give positive results for Västerbotten. This is according to researchers at Umeå University.
Mountain tourism has already had one of its absolute peak seasons - the Easter weekend - whilst other actors are now approaching their peak season, which also appears to be severely affected due to restrictions to avoid the spread of infection.
According to Statistics Sweden, the number of market-related overnight stays in Västerbotten in April was 57.6 per cent lower than the same period in 2019. The most affected are the regions of Jämtland, Stockholm, Västra Götaland and Dalarna, which had 70 per cent fewer overnight stays compared to the prior year.
Larger cities in Sweden are most affected by the highest dropout in terms of volume.
“We often think that Hemavan and Tärnaby are tourist resorts and that they are greatly affected. That is true, but Umeå has also been highly impacted, which we don’t usually consider a tourist destination,” says Dieter Müller, professor of social and economic geography with a focus on tourism at Umeå University.
Following the European Capital of Culture year in 2014, Umeå has risen to become one of the country's premier tourist cities with hotel capacity to conduct large gatherings. Since business trips are counted as tourism, the fallout this spring has been quite apparent.
However, hotels are far from the only industry that have been affected.
“What we have had is a situation where there was no tourism at all,” says Dieter Müller. “This has been seen to have a great effect on the restaurant industry, but also on the retail and transportation sectors.”
In Västerbotten, cross-border trade from the neighbouring countries of Norway and Finland has come to halt.
For some companies and stakeholders, this situation has been devastating and has led bankruptcy. But historically, tourism as a phenomenon has always managed to come back within a few years after crises, for example, after the oil crisis in the 1970s, after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the SARS epidemic in 2003, the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2010, and after the Second World War.
“When peace came, there was a pent-up need for many,” says Roger Marjavaara, associate professor of tourism geography at Umeå University. “We are now going out and doing what we could not do.”
Some believe that this particular crisis can lead to changes in tourism because time the climate crisis is simultaneously high on the agenda and tourism is partly seen as detrimental to the environment.
“It is talked about in the scientific discourse that now is the time to change everything. Now we will transform, because tourism has not been sustainable. But I don't think it will have that effect at all.
“I believe that in two years we will be back to the volumes that we are used to,” says Dieter Müller, who believes that one of the reasons is an increasingly globalised world where not only destinations and attractions prevail, but also work and especially relationships. “In Sweden alone, 20 per cent of the inhabitants have an international background.”
“We see it as one of our human rights to be mobile and be where we want to be and suddenly, we can't do it,” continues Dieter Müller.
“And globalisation is not declining, on the contrary, it is increasing,” says Roger Marjavaara. “These needs will be even greater in the future.”
On the other hand, the Umeå researchers believe that this summer's travel restrictions can be positive for Sweden and Västerbotten. In normal cases, Swedes spend more money abroad than abroad than they do in Sweden.
When Swedes stay within the nation’s borders to a greater extent, the money will stay in the country, because the summer holiday is one of the biggest expenses for the typical household and, so far, people are prepared to consume.
“I imagine that in Västerbotten, many people in the near vicinity and around Umeå would rather see a positive effect of this, especially in the summer,” says Roger Marjavaara, who believes that is a chance for people discover the surrounding area and he hopes that local stakeholders take the opportunity to show off what’s available so that it can become a recurring attraction.
For tourism, it is only to a certain extent about visiting well-known places. For many, it is more about changing the environment, maintaining relationships and having something to look forward to – even if it’s only a few miles away.
“We hang out by going somewhere. But it’s not so important if it’s Paris, Krakow or Lycksele. The most important thing is that we do something together,” says Roger Marjavaara.
“Those needs will not vanish. Therefore, tourism will not disappear, but it may look different, says Dieter Müller.
During the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, many had to switch to working remotely from home and we learned to meet online to a greater extent. But it can also generate greater need for physical meetings.
The fact that spring has made us better equipped for virtual meetings will probably reduce some type of travel, but even so, the Umeå researchers believe it creates the need for travel and tourism.
“Some say that digital solutions can replace physical ones. But what we do know is that if we look back, it’s quite the contrary. There further reasons for traveling in order to keep close contact and then you also have a much greater interest in meeting in person,” says Dieter Müller.