The pandemic of COVID-19 affected world tourism more than any other significant economic sector. To stop the disease spread and protect its citizens, countries worldwide have introduced international travel restrictions, bringing tourism almost overnight to a standstill. Indeed, at the height of this lockdown, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) found that 100% of global destinations either completely closed their borders to tourists or introduced strict measures such as the compulsory new arrivals quarantine.
The sudden and unforeseen fall in tourism arrivals also saw the many benefits tourism offers socially and economically. Tourism supports one out of ten jobs worldwide, and 80% of this sector consists of small and family-run businesses. At the onset of the crisis, the United Nations Office for UNWTO layouts three possible tourism scenarios in 2020. While it seems that the worst-case scenario is being prevented, this year, as compared with 2019, we predict global tourism arrivals to be as low as 70%.
The effect of a knock-on is essential. The United Nations Trade and Development Conference (UNCTAD) estimates that global GDP declines from 1.5% to 2.8% due to tourism’s troubles. Also, the decline in tourism is likely to lead to 120 million jobs being lost. As before, women and youths for whom tourism is a popular source of employment and people employed in the informal sector would be the most insecure.
Developing countries are at risk
No nation, including concerning tourism, has been left unregulated by the pandemic. In those countries most dependent on tourism for livelihoods and economic welfare, though, the implications would be felt most strongly. Tourism is a lifeline in most developing small island states (SIDS) and the least developed countries, particularly in Africa. On average and in certain situations, tourism accounts for 30 percent of the SIDS’ export income. Tourism accounts for 90% of all exports in Palau, the newest UNWTO member state, which formally joined in 2019.
The real expense of the pandemic’s impact on tourism cannot be ascertained exclusively in GDP or job statistics, as the Secretary-General’s policy letter on ‘COVID-19 and transforming tourism’ points out. Owing to its distinctly cross-cutting nature and influencing virtually every contemporary culture area, tourism plays a vital position in the United Nations’ broader mission, including meeting its sustainability goals. Again, Tourism leads the way for equality for men and women as a significant employer of women. At the same time, tourism is a substantial contributor to the conservation and preservation of cultural and natural resources in danger in developed countries, like habitats and biodiversity.
Cooperation building and a united answer
UNWTO recognized both the unique vulnerability of tourism and the extraordinary potential for the sector to promote broader societal recovery when the health crisis was addressed before the COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The visit to the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva of a UNWTO delegation laid the groundwork for international, multi-agency cooperation that has defined tourism’s response to an unprecedented challenge.
In turn, it has come out that the industry is at the center of the European New Green Deal, as planned, and at the latest G20 meetings, to promote more tourism at a high political level, in particular at the European Commission at the beginning of the year. This allowed the UNWTO in the United Nations to become a more and more prominent voice. Once the crisis hit, we made sure that both the government and the United Nations participated in the conversation.
In March, virtually everywhere and five times during the crisis, the Global Tourism Crisis Committee brought together leading voices from the Member States and the private sector. Only UNWTO could bring such a diverse industry together. These various voices and concerns have been transformed into a clear action plan by this Committee on Crises, the UNWTO Recovery Recommendations. These recommendations have been implemented throughout the public and private sectors and now inform recovery plans in all global regions.
Sustainability is the priority
The principle that sustainable development and inclusivity is at the core of the recovery process and the tourism sector emerging from this crisis is central to the recommendations. The break-in global tourism offers the world a chance to review its priorities. It also allows us to set the principles central to UNWTO ‘s work — that tourism is about people and the world, and it should be open to everyone and benefit everyone — front and center of all that we are doing.
But trust is the number one priority. The benefits that tourism offers will only be reaped by making people feel secure and encouraging them to travel again. UNWTO should lead by example, as the United Nations specialized tourism agency. To this end, visits to the Member States to the Canary Islands and Ibiza in Spain, Italy, and Saudi Arabia in person have resumed as soon as it was securely possible. A hybrid Executive Council, the first individual tourism sector meetings and the UN, which took place since the pandemic started, was also decided. It was held. One hundred seventy representatives from 24 countries gathered here. They sent a clear message that safe international travel in many parts of the world is now possible, thus providing the industry with a vital increase in confidence.
The sector’s position in the United Nations’ work has never been more relevant as it restarts in many parts of the world, with increasing numbers of countries reducing travel restrictions. United Nations Watch is leading the restart guided by the Tbilisi Declaration Principles, signed at the end of UNWTO (15-17 September 2020), by the Member States in Georgia. The Declaration acknowledges the importance of tourism for livelihoods, economic prosperity, and preserving the common and singular culture. Signatories are also working to build better, prioritize sustainability and equality, and ensure that nobody is left behind as tourism creates a brighter future.