Vox, a hugely-popular liberal-leaning American news and opinion platform known for explanatory journalism, has gone to the town with a screaming headline: “The era of peak travel is over. Covid-19 has changed the world’s jet-setting ways in the blink of an eye. It could take years to return to normal.”
There is no doubt, experts say, travel will be different in the post-coronavirus pandemic era. Travel will no longer be as easily accessible as used to be till the last day of 2019. In the five months since the Covid-19 emerged from a Chinese city and engulfed the whole world, tourism and travel industries have been the first in line to face the debilitating impacts of the sweeping lockdowns, travel restrictions, land borders closure, stoppage of visa facilities and social distancing measures.
The Covid-19, which has spread to 213 countries and territories and inflicted over six million people and killed over 360,000 deaths by May 30, has hugely impacted the Accessible Tourism, a domain which has been picking up a fast pace across the world in the recent years due to widening air connectivity and tourism destinations tapping it as a rainbow source market. As the number of death and fatalities from the 21st century’s second pandemic continues in several destinations across the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia, the Covid-19’s impact has been highly debilitating and irrecoverable in a short term, even for those destinations which have flattened the disease’s curve and opening up socially.
A world which can once again travel freely is still very far, but destinations have begun to take a plunge. Greece announced its plans to welcome international travellers by mid-June. Mexico’s tourist magnets Cancun and Tulum hopes to reopen soon. St. Lucia intends to be the first Caribbean island to put the tourism back on the tracks. Iceland is looking at ease restrictions. Several European countries are already working their ways to open up travelling by air and land routes and tapping beach tourism given the summer and people’s desire to be out in the open.
In the Middle East, Dubai took the lead to pump life back into the world’s fourth most-visited tourist destination after almost shuttering the city-state for weeks at a stretch. The emirate has sent out a strong message to the world: it is ready for business again, with the Dubai Tourism officials talking about the emirate becoming a magnet of attraction once again when summer picks up its pace and tourists flocks its sandy beaches and air-conditioned malls and touristic landmarks. According to a report in GQ, the travel industry has been one of the worst-hit. An infographic put together by Visual Capitalist and supported with data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the impact of Covid-19 on the travel sector and, by extension, the economy, has been severe – it used to contribute over 10 per cent or US$8.9 trillion to global GDP each year.
When it comes to the countries that earn the most money from travel and tourism, the US tops the list by contributing over US$1.8 trillion to its economy. China follows in second place with US$1.5 trillion, with the UK coming in at sixth place and Spain in the eighth place. The report says 44 countries remain highly dependent on the travel and tourism industry for over 15 per cent of their total share of employment. Europe accounts for half of the world’s ‘able’ tourist arrivals. In the European countries, Accessible Tourism market represents about 30 to 40 per cent of the total population. According to the UN World Tourism Organization (WTO), the Covid-19 has brought the world to a standstill, and tourism has been the worst affected of all major economic sectors and there is a heightened uncertainty, both for tourists and the tourism sector.
The pandemic has cut international tourist arrivals in the Q1 2020 to a fraction of what they were a year ago. Available data points to a decrease of 22 per cent in the first quarter, with arrivals in March down by 57 per cent. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about US$80 billion in receipts. Current scenarios point to declines of 58 to 78 per cent in international tourist arrivals for the year, depending on the speed of the containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders.
According to the global body, by April 20, 100 per cent of all worldwide destinations have introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic. A record 97 destinations (45 per cent) have totally or partially closed their borders for tourists and 65 destinations (30 per cent) have suspended totally or partially international flights. About 39 destinations (18 per cent) are implementing the closing of borders in a more differentiated manner by banning the entry for passengers from specific countries of origin.
Can destinations expect benefitting from the Accessible Tourism in the rush destinations will see the travel becomes comfortable and restrictions on movements get eased? According to a study by Accenture, a Fortune Global 500 multinational professional services company, the pandemic has given a call to action for the travel (and tourism) industry to now rapidly assess the fast-changing developments and the impact on the employees and customers. Currently, passenger travel and tourism is a public health hazard as well as a global economic problem. Travel companies are now making rapid decisions that will affect their very survival.
“What now? Reduce, restructure, rebuild. The fall in demand and closure of borders has seen the travel industry reduce at an unprecedented pace. Cruises have stopped, many airlines have suspended all scheduled service and hotel occupancy is low. The industry is starting to restructure—and the fortunate travel companies will pass from restructuring to rebuilding for a new normal.” It says most, if not all, borders will be shut to people for as long as the coronavirus circulates. The recovery for this crisis will only start when measures have been taken and travel is judged safe. Domestic passenger aviation will resume first, followed by international travel on a bilateral basis. When proven safe, national aviation systems will open back up to each other and the flow of people will again begin.
Accenture anticipates a “new normal” to emerge in the industry. Trusted, robust information to passengers and tourists will be vital to helping ensure short-term traveller confidence and long-term public health. “All travel businesses are likely going to restart from near zero. Customers can expect airlines, hotels and cruises to implement hospital-like hygienic practices for every change of flight, room and cabin. Airlines will radically rethink their business model towards ‘customer-oriented’ rather than efficiency-oriented. The average cost of delivering a trip will undoubtedly rise to meet new standards. Travel bookings are currently disconnected across suppliers and will make it less constructive to generate tourism in some markets.” It noted the Covid-19 outbreak has resulted in “dramatic disruptions” to travel and tourism industries leading to “new paradigms and in many cases, permanent shifts.”
According to a blog by Ketchum, a global public relations firm, on ‘Preparing for the Future of Tourism in a Post-Covid-19 world’, the crisis is having massive impacts on the tourism industry—many of which will reshape the industry’s future landscape. What actions should the stakeholders of this industry be taking today? The truth is no one knows for sure; we’re all figuring this out together. However, a business-as-usual approach is almost certainly wrong because there is nothing “usual” about this new life we’re all living and what’s happening to the tourism industry right now. There are no rules or playbook for this situation, and the right answer is constantly shifting. The industry can’t be limited by the thinking of the past or the tried and true.
As the tourism industry strives to regain its footing, it should adopt a mindset—embracing a collective, mutually beneficial and coordinated approach. A rising tide lifts all boats. Almost all major crises like Covid-19 have always fundamentally change and evolve the status quo. Agrees the International Journal of Tourism Cities: “The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact for months, if not years, to come. However, some of the first sectors of the economy to bear the brunt of this impact are already tourism, hospitality and travel, with key tourism cities around the world being hardest hit. Tour operators, airlines, cruise ships, hotels, restaurants and tourist shops will all suffer catastrophic losses across the world.”