The world is sick and tired of the COVID-19 pandemic. People all over the world have been hit and hit hard by the financial losses incumbent with the worldwide response. Businesses and individuals want life to reboot to “normal,” but we all know nothing will ever be the same again. Corporate travel giants like TUI are anxious to fly tourists on holidays, governments want that GDP to climb out of the cellar, and vacationers dream of summer’s in Greece the way they used to be. Well, it’s not happening soon. And it probably never will.
The world’s science community is trying desperately to find a medical solution. Meanwhile, nations that have been so dependent on tourism for their economies are staggered. This year alone, the industry has suffered an estimated €3 trillion euros in losses on account of the pandemic. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs, and the end is not really in sight. In fact, the worst is yet to come. So little is still known about the coronavirus, and the long tail of the economics is still a mystery to be solved later.
Meanwhile, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is publishing new data about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism. For those who are not aware, in May the pandemic led to a 98 percent fall in international tourists as compared to the previous year. In some parts of the world, domestic and international tourism is restarting with varying degrees of regulation. The UNWTO has again called on governments and international organizations to support tourism, a lifeline for millions, and the economic backbone of many economies. So far, some international flights have resumed, and in places like Greece, officials prepare to welcome cruises once again.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is urging tour industries worldwide to mandate the use of face masks as protection against the spread of the COVID-19 infection. In addition, the WTTC just released new guidelines for safe and simplified travel, including testing and monitoring, frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing, and more. Just last week the WTTC suggested that all nations create testing centers at major airports. Still more tourism-redux initiatives are expected.
Responsible Travel Guidelines have been developed for the entire global travel and tourism sector focusing on measures to safely steer business to car rental companies, airports, tour operators, sightseeing attractions, etc. But with all this shifting going on, organizations like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) still cling to the idea air traffic and general tourism will return as it once was. Now, the IATA is saying passenger numbers will back to what they were before the pandemic by 2024. Their report is hopeful, but not reality.
In the midst of it all, a worldwide slogan of “We Will Travel Again” promises a return to normal life, but also a commitment to rebuild a sector that must rethink and adapt to new market demands and make sure that tourists always feel safe wherever they go. At the end of the day, “normal” is going to play out before smaller crowds of tourists. And this is probably a very good thing considering the uncontrolled and unsustainable tourism practices of the past. In the future, places like Santorini will not be trampled into the sea by waves of romance seekers. Airline seating may not make passengers feel like sardines flying in a tin can across the skies. And businesses may not have to operate on such slim margins since travel will become the expensive commodity it always should have been.
So far, the outlook for tourism in 2020 is bleak. Already countries that were in a hurry to start restoring domestic and international tourism are seeing COVID-19 spike again. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported a new uptick in coronavirus infections in Europe and a looming disaster in the US, Brazil, India and dozens of other countries. The world and the industry is in flux over the pandemic, but “experts” continue to predict everything from a total reset to a redux of travel the way it was before COVID-19.
The jury on this pandemic is not yet in, and entities tied to the industry profess knowing. This BBC report talks about the “permanent transformation” of the industry, which is what we are looking at. The report cites Mario Hardy, CEO of travel industry body the Pacific Asia Travel Association saying:
“Even if the vaccine was implemented tomorrow, these changes will not all go away. There may be some relaxation in some areas, but some controls will remain in place because this is probably not the only time we’re going to have a pandemic moving forward. So, it’s a new normal.”
WHO officials say if the trend gets worse, Europe tourism will be in the drink. Meanwhile, three huge problems hang over any possible industry recovery dream. The economic situation will trickle down to affect travel massively. The lack of customer confidence will linger for months if not years. And, competition for bookings is bound to become a war.
Finally, the world’s experts are still mulling over the overall effects of this catastrophe, so how can one industry isolate from world dynamics? This report at Politico cites some of the world’s leading experts discussing what the future holds, and nowhere in the discussion is there mention of a redux of the 1980s. I leave you with a prediction by Matthew Continetti, who is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute:
“Our collective notions of the possible have changed already. If the danger the coronavirus poses both to individual health and to public health capacity persists, we will be forced to revise our very conception of “change.” The paradigm will shift.”
Adapted in part from International Affairs Russia