If you’re traveling to Europe this summer, maybe you’re sensitive to all the tourism clichés. You don’t want to be the visitor staring mindlessly at the Eiffel Tower wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap that advertises: “I am an American!”
You want to be a traveler, not a tourist.
The travel industry also stopped thinking of you as a tourist during the pandemic. One European city, in particular, is going to great lengths to erase the lines between leisure travelers, business travelers, meeting delegates — and even local visitors. But for the rest of us, the question remains: In a post-pandemic world, how do you travel without being, you know, one of those tourists?
It’s going to be a big summer for vacations. Travel spending is expected to reach more than $1.1 trillion for the year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by about 11 percent. That’s according to estimates by the World Travel & Tourism Council and Oxford Economics. And most travel takes place during June, July and August. So we’re only a few weeks away from the start of what could potentially be a record-breaking travel season.
Tourist or traveler? Athens is welcoming both
One European city is looking past the traditional distinctions drawn between tourists, travelers and other visitors.
“There is no difference for us,” declared Vagelis Vlachos, CEO of the City of Athens Development and Destination Management Agency.
Vlachos made his comments at a recent press conference to announce the return of tourism to the Greek capital. Surrounded by other industry leaders, including the mayor of Athens, the president of Aegean Airlines, and a director of Athens International Airport, he disclosed something that tourism leaders around the world have only been thinking — that segmenting visitors sometimes makes no sense in a world with the pandemic on the wane.
“We see tourists, meeting delegates, and locals the same when it comes to how we approach tourism,” he said. Athens is also reaching out to other prospective residents, such as digital nomads, to attract visitors.
Like many European cities, Athens is experiencing a strong rebound in tourism. April traffic to Athens International is up 92 percent in April from 2021 levels, according to tourism officials. But other European destinations have also signaled that they’ll take a more holistic approach to tourism this summer. We see that in the number of digital nomad visa programs introduced just this year. Italy just announced it would introduce a digital nomad visa. Malta began heavily promoting its program this year. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Iceland, Germany and Spain also have similar visas.
The idea originated during the darkest days of the pandemic, say experts. That’s when officials began to realize that local markets could sustain them — and that’s when they started to rethink their approach to tourism.
The Lighthouse sees a bright future in non-segmentation
At the newly opened Lighthouse Athens, a luxury hotel in an up-and-coming part of Athens, there’s also a sense that the divisions don’t make sense.
“This is the kind of city where you don’t really feel like a tourist,” says Dimitria Arida, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. “It’s very welcoming, and you are made to feel like a local.”
The Lighthouse is in a former theater that sat vacant for 30 years before Tel Aviv-based Brown Hotels purchased it and began an ambitious renovation. Brown doubled down on the Athens market, opening five hotels. Arida says the property aligns with the message of Athens tourism, which is that after you arrive in the Greek capital, you are treated like a local in every respect that matters.
For travelers, this approach may be exactly what’s needed as tourism kicks back into high gear this summer. A new survey by Redpoint Global suggests that 77 percent of Americans are planning to travel this year, and many of them this summer. For a majority, it will be the first major trip since the pandemic started. And the last thing they want is to be singled out, coddled, or treated like a walking dollar sign.
How do you travel and not be a tourist?
You’re probably wondering the difference between a traveler and a tourist. Well, there’s a textbook definition. Tourists, or leisure travelers, typically visit a destination for a few days. They spend their money on attractions, tours and restaurant meals. Travelers might be in a place longer and they tend to prefer more authentic experiences, like meeting locals and immersing in cultural activities.
Here’s what else separates tourists from travelers:
They take their time. Travelers get to their destinations slowly, savoring the journey and making frequent stops to enjoy the scenery. Tourists usually fly to their destination and quickly head to the major tourist attractions. One day they’re in New York, the next day they’re in Istanbul.
They’re flexible. Here’s another thing travelers do: They often play it by ear. Instead of taking a tour with fixed stops, they explore a destination at their own pace. If they see a place they like, they make a detour. If there’s a place they don’t like, they skip it. Tourists do everything on their itinerary. Why? Because it’s on their itinerary.
They zig when everyone else zags. Tourists head to the same places — the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Archaeological Museum. That’s not to say these places aren’t worth visiting. But travelers venture off the beaten path, exploring places few tourists would. They check out the Agora or the Tower of the Winds. Instead of a hotel, they go for a vacation rental. They cook their own meals using local recipes and ingredients.
They explore. Curiosity sets travelers apart from tourists, too. A traveler will wander a city’s neighborhoods to understand the culture. Travelers learn a few words of the local language and try to communicate. Tourists aren’t as inquisitive. They tend to follow a prescribed itinerary and love to tell everyone where they’re from and how great life is back home. They seek out other tourists to commiserate about the experience.
They’re discreet. You can often tell someone is a tourist by looking at them. It’s the guy wearing the Hawaiian shirt with the camera hanging around his neck. Or the woman with the oversized sweatshirt and the baseball cap. Too often, you can spot an American tourist from a mile away. Travelers dress down, wearing muted colors and blending in. They don’t speak loudly, and they follow local customs.
But it’s nice to know that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a tourist or a traveler this summer. Cities are ready for you, and they’re happy to have you no matter who you are. And isn’t that what hospitality is all about?