The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption in the global economy. By the end of the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had brought international travel to an abrupt halt, and had significantly impacted the tourism industry. For many developed and developing economies, the tourism sector is a major source of employment, government revenue, and foreign exchange earnings.
The global tourism economy has been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and measures were introduced to contain spread of the pandemic. Depending on the duration of the crisis, revised scenarios by the OECD (2020) indicate that the potential shock could range between 60% and 80% decline in the international tourism economy in 2020. Beyond immediate measures to support the tourism sector, countries are also shifting to develop recovery measures. These include considerations on lifting travel restrictions, restoring traveller confidence, and rethinking the tourism sector for the future.
Government’s response in the first phase of the crisis has been focused on immediate response and mitigation efforts to protect visitors and workers, and to ensure business continuity following the imposition of containment measures. Supports have largely focused on getting financial aid out to the widest possible net of workers and businesses as quickly as possible. As the containment measures start to ease, the next step would be to get travellers moving, tourism businesses back up and running, and people back to work. This is an important but complex and challenging task.
While the medium- and long-term tourism impacts of COVID-19 will vary between countries, destinations, and segments of the sector, it is clear that in order to open up while the virus is still circulating, governments would need to take balanced, measured and coordinated policy action at the local, national and international levels, in order to protect people while minimising job losses and business closures in the immediate and long-terms.
Facilitating the sector’s short-term recovery
Starting up tourism again after the pandemic will be challenging. Even though destinations may be objectively safe, many risk-averse travellers may seek to avoid exposure to COVID-19 and decide not to travel at all, or decide to travel only short distances, avoiding air transport.
Different measures can be taken to regain the travellers’ trust; the most urgent is the adoption of preventative measures to minimise spread of the disease. In several countries, the ministries of health and of tourism, technical standards institutions, and the private sector are collaborating to define new protocols to minimise the risk of COVID-19 contagion. For example, a multi-stakeholder tourism recovery task force has been established in Antigua and Barbuda and in Jamaica.
The collapse of international arrivals has highlighted the need for diversification, and has led several countries to promote domestic tourism to build resilience to shocks.
Domestic tourism should have the dual function of reactivating the economy and recognising the importance of access to leisure for everyone. In Mexico, domestic tourists account for 83% of the sector’s revenues (INEGI, 2019). Therefore, the Government is promoting travel experiences and brands in the country’s 32 states (Secretariat of Tourism, 2020). An alternative approach to boost domestic tourism demand being explored in Chile is to provide vouchers of discounts to lower-income families or older persons.
Several countries have undertaken special marketing campaigns to attract new visitors in the near future. The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has posited health and wellness could be a potential marketing point for the countries of the sub-region (Barbados Today, 2020). International marketing strategy should target those groups most likely to travel first, including luxury and business travellers, who can adopt physical distancing measures more easily, and tend to favour less crowded locations.
Some of these strategies can be more easily implemented if tourism businesses operate within public-private clusters. Clusters are a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers and other institutions with a strategic agenda for business upgrading and sophistication. Firms organised in clusters have strategic advantages to address the immediate challenges of the pandemic, and define reactivation agendas. In Colombia, for example, there are eighteen tourism clusters in different segments, including nature, business, health and cultural tourism.
Build confidence through health and
safety protocols in all tourism operations
Implementing and communicating adequate health and safety protocols at all points of the travel journey would be key to rebuilding confidence while ensuring the safety and security of travellers, workers, and host communities. Collaboration and cooperation between countries would be essential in this regard.
As tourism restarts, return-to-work policies could be informed by a human-centred approach that puts rights, international labour standards, and psychological wellbeing of workers at the heart of economic, social, and environmental recovery strategies. Social dialogue would be critical for creating the effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work. The International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) “Return to work: Guide for Employers on COVID-19 Prevention” provides a detailed set of actions and recommendations issued by relevant health and labour authorities. Workers, including those in the air and sea transport travel sectors, could be informed and trained about COVID-19, and policy guidance could be embedded in national occupational safety and health systems.
Unnecessary obstacles for travellers with disabilities and for seniors should be avoided, and safety measures should be adopted. The new reality should not impose additional barriers for these groups. “Reopening Tourism for Travellers with Disabilities” offers relevant guidance to promote inclusion in this area.
About the Author:JC. Bhagwandin is an economic and financial analyst, lecturer and business & financial consultant. The views expressed are exclusively his own and do not necessarily represent those of this newspaper and the institutions he represents. For comments, send to [email protected]