Stefan Gössling

The pandemic sheds light on the unsustainability of today’s tourism: “The cost for air travel must increase”

What changes to the tourism industry can we expect after the covid-19 pandemic? This question takes up a lot of time for Stefan Gössling, professor of tourism studies at Linnaeus University.

As he conducts research in sustainable tourism, Stefan Gössling has studied how the virus outbreak has affected our travelling and behaviour. At the onset of the pandemic, he studied what impact the pandemic had on the tourism industry, a study that was published in Journal of sustainable tourism. The article received a lot of attention and now, two years later, he has followed up on the topic: How has the tourism industry, the general public, and politics handled the pandemic?

The article “Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19” from April 2020, has been downloaded over 300,000 times and been quoted about 900 times by other researchers. How does it feel that your research has received this much attention?

“It feels great, of course, when people read what you have written. But I really wasn’t expecting that there would be such great interest. It has come to my knowledge that the article was actually the most downloaded article at the publishing house Taylor & Francis last year”, says Gössling.

At an early stage, you argued that the covid-19 pandemic sheds light on flaws within the tourism industry and that changes must be made to achieve a more sustainable tourism industry. Can you tell us more about this and explain what you mean?

“Global tourism has been based on volume growth with small profit margins. Social media has contributed to making it attractive to tick off destinations, one by one. The aviation industry is now in the midst of a massive crisis. There is way too much capacity and all companies market themselves according to the model “buy one flight get two”. This model is not sustainable. We must rethink, and the first important step in this process will be to reduce the capacity of the aviation industry. It must become profitable to transport people, which means that the price for air travel must go up”, Gössling continues

As a researcher in sustainable tourism, what would you say is the most important thing to learn from these two pandemic years?

“In my opinion, there are many parallels to the climate crisis. Too many people still do not understand how cataclysmic the climate crisis will become. During the pandemic, we have learnt what such a cataclysmic event can look like. I don’t think that anyone wants what we are now experiencing to become a permanent state of affairs. Nonetheless, we are moving rapidly in exactly that direction and I believe it’s important to act quickly, more precisely immediately. In 2030 it will be too late for regrets”, Gössling explains.

In your article from 2020, you write that the pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to question the values that guide the tourism industry. Now that you’ve written a follow-up on the topic, what conclusions have you arrived at?

“We have reviewed the research that was published due to the crisis and, unfortunately, we cannot see that any groundbreaking proposals have been presented, neither from politicians nor within the tourism industry. A crisis is always a crisis, and everyone wants to go back to normal as soon as possible”, Gössling continues.

How do you think Sweden has handled the situation?

“I think that Sweden has performed very well in comparison to many other countries. Above all, due to the fact that the Swedish population was ‘onboard’. The rules were respected to a greater extent than in other countries. The public trust in the state is greater in Scandinavia than in the rest of Europe, this helped make sure that we could manage without lockdowns and other limitations. What is more, that children could continue to go to school is quite unique in Europe”, says Gössling.

Has the covid-19 pandemic altered how we see tourism in any way that surprises you?

“The most interesting aspect is perhaps that the myth of ‘indispensable’ business trips now can be put aside. We have learnt how to have meetings online. I think there will be a balance between business trips and online meetings in the future”, Gössling concludes.


Read more about Stefan Gössling's research about the pandemic and tourism here:

Link to the article: ”Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19” (2020)

Link to the article: “Two years of COVID-19 and tourism: what we learned, and what we should have learned” (2022)