As the world grapples with COVID-19, The UN Secretary General has issued a call for the most disruptive startups and entrepreneurs to contribute towards lessening its impact on tourism.

It’s an urgent call because The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects tourist arrivals to go down by 20% to 30% in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures.

The UNWTO has also pointed that in 2009, on the back of the global economic crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by 4%, while the SARS outbreak led to a decline of 0.4% in 2003.

However, the tourism sector proved its resilience with international arrivals surging up until 2019 signalling years of sustained growth. This was made possible only through global cooperation and the unique ways in which each nation put itself out there for travellers to explore.

Here are a few examples of how tourist destinations bounced back from bad news.

People power: Iceland

A land of many active volcanoes, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption of 2010 forced many European countries to close its airspace for several days. It was the largest air-traffic shutdown since World War II and came right after the financial crisis of 2008.

To get the tourism industry back on its feet, Icelanders got together to highlight the best of their nation under a common website — Inspired by Iceland — to persuade tourists to visit the country again. Live webcams were set up to reassure the world that Iceland wasn’t drowning in ash.

A music concert streamed live to a global audience brought back travellers — thousands of them from other European countries — and pumped in an additional £127.4m to Iceland’s economy.

Celebrities and corporates: Kerala, South India

After devastating monsoon floods of 2018, Kerala — with close to two million people dependent on tourism, which accounted for 10% of its GDP — found itself staring at a wall of fear that was slowly eroded by careful campaigns with celebrities, lifestyle bloggers and product advertisements.

Luggage manufacturer Samsonite earned a lot of laurels — and customers — through their Kerala is Open advertisement that sought to build an emotional connect rather than focus on the functional benefits of their products.

The advertisement — replete with lush scenery, local music and the people of the land — forged a bond with audiences instantly. Indian cricketer Virat Kohli wrote an open letter in which he highlighted the mesmerising magic of the Keralite coast. He sold the place to his fans not as a destination, but as an experience.

Resorts invited tour operators to witness the situation first-hand so they could go back and convince their clientele about exploring Kerala again. The state stunned everyone by emerging a clear winner in tourism in India’s State of the States 2019 study with revenues exceeding the previous two years!

Internet-savvy domestic travellers unite: Philippines

When authorities realised that the biggest group of travellers in Philippines is their own citizenry, it became easier to use technology to reach out to a bigger audience.

A land exhausted by regular typhoons, the Philippines changed the way it was perceived by foreigners by encouraging its own people to share holiday experiences under the banner “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”.

The country’s Department of Tourism used pictures shared by domestic travellers — with their consent, of course! Even its campaign slogan was sourced from posts of domestic tourists. This led to a rise of 231% in Google hits and a flood of free data that increased footfalls and tourism revenue.

Whacky campaign: Brussels

Brussels went into a lockdown — which paralysed its tourist industry — after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. It took a quirky campaign to reassure travellers and generate enough interest in the region to bring tourists back.

The Call Brussels campaign invited foreigners to call a random local person through an Internet phone. Located in three major spots of the Brussels-Capital Region, the outdoor telephone booths sought to increase engagement between potential tourists and the people of Brussels.

More than 12000 calls were recorded from 154 countries. The campaign generated about 9 million posts on social media thus establishing the power of personal influence in tourism marketing.

From tsunami to samurai: Volunteer tourism in Japan

After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 — and the subsequent nuclear crisis — the beautiful country of Japan lost its biggest strength: tourists. People focused on tragedies that were shown repeatedly across media channels and dismissed the existence of safer regions within the country.

Japanese tour operators relied on volunteer tourists who not only cleaned up sites that needed repair but also went back to inform others about how Japan was recovering. It’s not all earthquakes and nuclear leaks, they said. It’s also cherry blossoms and samurai.

Advertisements are no doubt good, but it is also important for personal stories to reach travellers who may be unsure about their safety in the region.

Japan attracted a different brand of tourists — the conscientious ones — and realised the potential of a personal story in bringing in more travellers. The country set a new record for itself in 2019 with 31.9 million foreign visitors: an increase of 2.2% from 2018.