If you’re traveling to Europe this summer, you might be sensitive to all the tourist clichés. You don’t want to be the visitor who mindlessly stares at the Eiffel Tower in a T-shirt and baseball cap that says, “I’m an American!”
You want to be a traveler, not a tourist.
The travel industry has also stopped considering you a tourist during the pandemic. One European city, in particular, is going to great lengths to blur 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 the those tourists?
It’s going to be a big summer vacation. Travel spending is expected to reach more than $1.1 trillion for the year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by about 11%. This is according to estimates from the World Travel & Tourism Council and Oxford Economics. And most trips take place in June, July and August. So we’re only weeks away from the start of what could potentially be a record travel season.
Tourist or traveller? Athens welcomes both
A European city goes beyond the traditional distinctions between tourists, travelers and other visitors.
“There is no difference for us,” said Vagelis Vlachos, CEO of the City of Athens Destination Development and Management Agency.
Vlachos made his comments during 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 revealed something that tourism leaders around the world were not doing. what to think – that segmenting visitors sometimes doesn’t make sense in a world with the waning pandemic.
“We see tourists, meeting delegates and locals alike in terms of how we approach tourism,” he said. Athens is also reaching out to other potential 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 was up 92% in April from 2021 levels, according to tourism officials. But other European destinations have also signaled that they will take a more holistic approach to tourism this summer. We see it in the number of digital nomad visa programs introduced this year alone. Italy has just announced that it will introduce a digital nomad visa. Malta began to heavily promote its program this year. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Iceland, Germany and Spain also have similar visas.
The idea was born during the darkest days of the pandemic, experts say. It was then that officials began to realize that local markets could support them – and it was then that they began to rethink their approach to tourism.
Le Phare sees a bright future in non-segmentation
At the brand new Lighthouse Athens, a luxury hotel in an up-and-coming area of Athens, it also feels like divisions don’t make sense.
“It’s the kind of town where you don’t really feel like a tourist,” explains Dimitria Arida, the hotel’s commercial and marketing director. “It’s very welcoming and you feel like a local.”
The lighthouse sits in a former theater that sat vacant for 30 years before Tel Aviv-based Brown Hotels bought it and began an ambitious renovation. Brown doubled down on the Athens market, opening five hotels. Arida says the property aligns with Athens’ tourism message, which is that after you arrive in the Greek capital, you’re treated like a local in every way.
For travelers, this approach may be just what they need as tourism picks up speed this summer. A new survey from Redpoint Global suggests that 77% of Americans plan to travel this year, and many of them this summer. For a majority, this will be the first big trip since the start of the pandemic. And the last thing they want is to be singled out, pampered, or treated like a walking dollar sign.
How to travel without being a tourist?
You are probably wondering the difference between a traveler and a tourist. Well, there is a textbook definition. Tourists, or vacationers, usually visit a destination for a few days. They spend their money on attractions, tours and dining out. Travelers can stay in one place longer, and they tend to prefer more authentic experiences, like meeting locals and immersing themselves in cultural activities.
Here is what separates tourists from travelers:
They take their time. Travelers slowly arrive at their destination, relishing the journey and making frequent stops to enjoy the scenery. Tourists usually fly to their destination and quickly make their way to major tourist attractions. One day they are in New York, the next day they are in Istanbul.
They are flexible. Here’s another thing travelers do: they often play 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 take a detour. If there’s a spot they don’t like, they skip it. Tourists do everything on their itinerary. Why? Because it’s on their route.
They zigzag when everyone else zags. Tourists go to the same places – the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Archaeological Museum. That’s not to say these places aren’t worth visiting. But travelers are venturing off the beaten track, exploring places few tourists would go. They visit the Agora or the Tower of the Winds. Instead of a hotel, they opt for a vacation rental. They prepare their own meals using local recipes and ingredients.
They explore. Curiosity also distinguishes travelers from tourists. A traveler will walk through the neighborhoods of a city to understand its culture. Travelers learn a few words of the local language and try to communicate. Tourists are not so curious. They tend to follow a prescribed route and like to tell everyone where they come from and how good life is back home. They are looking for other tourists to sympathize with the experience.
They are discreet. You can often tell someone is a tourist by looking at them. He’s the guy in the Hawaiian shirt with the camera around his neck. Or the woman with the oversized sweatshirt and the baseball cap. Too often you can spot an American tourist a mile away. Travelers dress lightly, wear muted colors and blend in. They don’t speak loudly and follow local customs.
But it is good to know that it does not matter if you are 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 the very essence of hospitality?