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Has COVID-19 changed tourism in Spain? Experts have identified three types of tourist

Experts predict a continuing trend of mass and sun- and beach-based tourism for summer 2022 (Photo: jlxp / Pixabay)

Pablo Ramos

Experts predict a continuing trend of mass and sun- and beach-based tourism for summer 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset a huge variety of activities and situations worldwide since it first emerged in early 2020. One of the industries most harshly affected by it has been tourism, as a result of restrictions on flights and mobility and people's reluctance to travel for health reasons, all of which have resulted in a significant reduction in tourism in the last two years.

A study conducted by researchers at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), and published in the open-access Journal of Tourism Futures, has looked at the impact of people's perceived health risk of travelling immediately after the first wave of COVID-19 and lockdown and identified various tourist profiles and their motivations.

"The experience of the pandemic has led to a variety of reactions affecting people's behaviour as tourists. Some people seem to want to make changes to their consumption habits and the way they do tourism, whereas others have not done this at all or have only done so in a very superficial manner," said Francesc González Reverté, a member of the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business and New Perspectives on Tourism and Leisure (NOUTUR) research group, who led the study together with UOC researchers Joan Miquel Gomis López and Pablo Díaz Luque.


Tourist profiles

According to the authors of the study, there are three profiles of tourists who want to change their future tourism habits and behaviour in terms of the way they organize trips and decide when and how to visit certain places. The first profile is that of the concerned tourist. Members of this category assert that they want to change the way they live, and therefore the way they travel, after the pandemic.

The second profile is that of the pragmatic tourist. People in this category are sensitive to the risk of tourism but are not willing to make serious changes to the way they travel. "Tourists in this category only change their behaviour temporarily, for the duration of the pandemic," said González Reverté.

Finally, sceptical tourists are those who do not want to change either their travel habits or their behaviour. They do not appear to be risk-averse and state that they want to keep travelling to mass tourism destinations.

These profiles were drawn up based on 500 interviews conducted with Spanish tourists in spring 2020, after the first wave of COVID-19 and lockdown, early on in the pandemic, when there were no vaccines. The set of interviewees was composed of 33.7% men and 66.3% women, all of them in the 35-45 and 46-54 age ranges. As to educational background, at the time of the survey 53.5% of respondents had finished secondary school, and 33% had a degree. Furthermore, 79% were working, and 21% were unemployed.

The study also found that people have reacted in very different ways regardless of whether or not they have had the disease themselves. González explained that "We were surprised to find no direct correlation between having been affected by the disease, either personally or through close contacts, and a change in behaviour in tourism or general living habits."


Short-term tourism trends

Although coronavirus diseases, among others, are transmitted faster in this globalized world, particularly in highly populated areas, the authors noted that the behavioural change of some tourists has been very "short-lived". "Although the pandemic has led to an intellectual debate revolving around the new global consciousness of our insignificance as a species, the results of the study suggest that there is no general fear of continuing to travel in the future or any intention of radically changing the way we do so," said González.

In fact, the UOC researchers emphasized that risk perception is a social construct and is therefore not sufficient in itself to make people change unless it is coupled with other measures, such as education or awareness-raising actions. Furthermore, behavioural changes "are more based on factors such as environmental attitudes or individual people's pre-existing worldviews," they noted.

Although there was talk of a change in tourism habits and preferences shortly after the early waves, such as a greater trend towards nature tourism or visiting the countryside, the study has shown that there is a significant number of tourists who will continue to rely on traditional sun- and beach-based mass tourism destinations in the long term. "A significant majority of tourists don't associate going to these very busy places with a higher risk of catching the disease. Furthermore, they often perceive them as safe," said the UOC researcher.

This finding challenges the idea that mass tourism destinations "were going to be the big losers". Although the fall in tourism initially resulted in losses of millions of euros for the industry, we are now moving away from the trend that led to the idea that mass tourism was "going to disappear". For example, the initial visitor forecasts for summer 2022 confirm a continuing trend in this type of mass tourism.

"Although our contributions are clear, we need many more empirical studies to provide new data in order to effectively measure the effect of the pandemic on various aspects of tourist behaviour," concluded González. He also noted that, although many articles about the link between COVID-19 and tourism have been written, their approach is usually theoretical or based on the author's personal opinion or mere speculation, without any field work-based data or information.


This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; and 12, Responsible Consumption and Production.


González-Reverté, F., Gomis-López, J. M. and Díaz-Luque, P. (2022), "Reset or temporary break? Attitudinal change, risk perception and future travel intention in tourists experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic"Journal of Tourism Futures, vol. ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print.



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UOC experts

Photograph of Francesc González Reverté

Francesc González Reverté

Expert in: Cultural tourism; responsible tourism; coastal tourism.

Knowledge area: Regional geographic analysis.

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Photograph of Joan Miquel Gomis López

Joan Miquel Gomis López

Expert in: Communication, marketing and brokerage for tourism businesses; low-cost companies; responsible tourism.

Knowledge area: Communication and organization of tourism businesses.

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Photograph of Pablo Díaz Luque

Pablo Díaz Luque

Expert in: Information systems and ICTs in tourism, electronic marketing and promotion of tourist destinations, social media and tourism, the sharing economy applied to tourism, tourism economy and development.

Knowledge area: e tourism, e destination, sharing economy and collaborative consumption in tourism, tourism development.

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