There is no doubt that the lust for visiting new places and experiencing new things is a trait that sets humans apart from other species. The travel and tourism industry flourished around this tendency. But in recent times, with an unforeseen pandemic spewing devastation, the industry has come to a screeching halt.
Tourism and hospitality was a steady growing industry with an annual growth rate of 4%. More and more countries that previously kept foreigners at a distance had recently realized the potential of the sector and opened up their borders. They welcome travelers to experience the life, culture, and history of their land. Many countries like Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia, and so on thrive on the income generated from tourism and related activities.
At the time, when international tourism was thriving, no one really expected that the industry would one day be on its knees. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
COVID -19 and its impacts
When COVID-19 was first announced in China late in the year 2019, no one gave it much heed. People went on with their lives. Like always, the leading travel agencies competed to provide the best tour packages to their customers. People traveled to all the places they wanted. But once the microbe crossed borders and started spreading at an alarming rate, everything went upside down.
Incredibly, the tourism industry which was usually insulated from most global issues was one of the first affected.
United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that the global international tourist arrival will be reduced by 20 to 30 percent in 2020. This is against the predicted growth rate of 4 percent. This deficit translates to a reduction of 30 to 50 billion US dollars in spending. If the present situation continues without progress until the end of the year, the unofficial calculations point to a loss that can go up to 60 percent.
A global economic slowdown is expected to continue for some time even after we have effectively contained COVID-19. This problem is staring right at the face of the tourism industry.
This standstill in the sector is expected to have a big impact on both small and big players. Even the best tour agencies will struggle to get back to their feet during this period. For those subsidiary businesses like vehicle rentals, souvenir shops, homestays, and so on which depend heavily on tourism, this is not good news.
The International Air Travel Association (IATA) predicts that the airline industry is unlikely to pick up on traffic any time sooner. Their optimistic projections estimate that a return to pre-pandemic traffic levels is not to be expected until the start of 2021. That means international tour packages will be in the ditch for another 6 months.
What is the future
Though it is impossible to predict what is in store for tourism in the future, the UN World Tourism Organisation has made some predictions. They are not as pessimistic as some expect it to be.
UNWTO relies on previous data to make some assumptions about the future of the industry. The SARS epidemic and H1N1 influenza had tourism in such a deadlock for some time. But against all expectations, the industry fought through the times and bounced back stronger than ever. Though COVID-19 has created a much larger stir in the world compared to its predecessors, the organization believes the adaptability of the international tourism sector will help it to escape the vice-like grip of the pandemic.
Regarding the economic slowdown, UNWTO has some comments. When the economic recession of 2008 made people jobless and homeless in many countries including developed ones, travel and tourism also took a severe blow. Even experts in the industry predicted that it will not get back to normal for several years. Nevertheless, the best tourist agencies around the world put their heads together and formulated Recession Tourism, a low-cost high-value experience, to cope with the new economic climate. The results were staggering. Within months, the industry flourished from ground zero and attained a growth rate that enthralled everyone.
A Versatile Sector
This surely does not mean that the travel enthusiasts can avail of a great tour package, hop on an airplane, and backpack through their favorite destinations soon. It might take some time to get back to pre-COVID conditions of tourism. But the industry has shown the capacity to adjust to the new conditions by coming up with innovative solutions to tackle the new world order from time to time.
This versatility of the tourism industry, which sees everything as an opportunity in disguise is something to be looked up to. History has shown us that even centers of torture and mass killings like Auschwitz camp later became tourist attractions. Giving names like Dark tourism, many countries market even such blemishes in their history.
Pro-poor tourism which is focused on giving livelihood to the poor in the country by opening up the doors of their lives to tourists is gaining momentum. Some of the best tourist agencies promote Doom tourism or Last-chance tourism, which gives travelers the opportunity to see some monuments before they are reshaped or demolished. It also provides a visit to environmentally threatened areas.
A new normal
There are already new trends in the travel sector with a focus on health care. Medical tourism will surely come up as some countries have proven to have better healthcare facilities than others. International tour packages will be so designed to make these medical facilities accessible to those who seek it. Countries where the pandemic was effectively curbed, while many developed countries crumbled, may use it to attract tourists. We may witness their success stories marketed in the post-COVID-19 era.
It is highly probable that domestic tourism will be the first one to open up the locks. Many countries have already opened internal travel. So those who are frustrated by the months-long lockdown will try to at least go to a calming environment inside their own country. This will be considered safer as opposed to traveling to a foreign land. Many tourist agencies and vehicle rental companies are putting their hopes on this particular consciousness shift in travelers.
It is also a good sign that the popular sports events like the European Premier League, La Liga, Cricket matches, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and so forth have kicked off. Even though the galleries are empty for now, the time when it will turn into an arena of roaring and cheering fans is nigh.
Governments and Grands
Many countries have already declared stimulus packages to keep afloat the tourism and related industries. Such booster packages will surely instill a new vigor in the tourism sector which was beaten down by an invisible enemy.
The tourism specific measures proclaimed by governments will not only keep the sector from taking a nosedive but attract more investors into it. Hence even the best agencies in the world may get better with additional funding.
The travelers are the ultimate benefactors of all this. They will be able to travel internationally without making their wallet lighter. Also, they can experience the new trends in the industry. Thus the quality of the travel experience will surely become better.
Precautions for Travel
Nevertheless, for the time being, tourists have to take some measures to keep themselves safe. UNWTO recommends some safety measures before embarking on a journey with the hashtag #Responsibletravel
Travel guidelines under #Responsibletravel are
- Consult a national healthcare authority and check the guidelines before traveling
- Take responsibility for keeping yourself and others safe
- In case you become sick while on the journey, isolate yourself and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Basic Prevention Practices
While traveling UNWTO insists on the adherence to the same basic prevention practices that the World Health Organization (WHO) has put forth. This will greatly help to keep yourself and others safe.
The guidelines to be followed are:
- Regular washing of hands
- Normal cough etiquette (cover mouth while coughing and sneezing, or cough into the crook of the elbow)
- In case of illness, avoid or at least postpone travel plans
- Avoid contact with anyone suffering from acute respiratory infections
Many countries have made some mandatory rules to prevent the disease. Some of the common rules are:
- Maintaining social distance ( depending on the country, the distance can vary, but the standard is 1 meter)
- Wearing face masks and gloves
- Using hand sanitizers before getting into a shop or a building
The X factor
Having predicted all the difficulties the world has to face in the dystopian future, it would be irresponsible to not point out the X factor that can turn all these around: an effective vaccine.
If we can find out a vaccine that can destroy the virus it will greatly revive the tourism industry and the whole world. Such a possibility is not considered while making predictions of the effects and after-effects of COVID-19.
In fact, many countries are heavily funding vaccine research. The foremost research facilities in the world are concentrating all the resources to this end. There surely are many obstacles for the vaccine to hit the market, but many teams have made a great pace in the matter. The Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine (AZD1222 COVID-19 vaccine) is giving great hopes already.
If it is proven effective after the different stages of the rigorous tests, the novel coronavirus will be another pandemic that our race has effectively curbed. Life will get back to normal, people can avail international tour packages and travel anywhere they want without fear. The tourism industry can then breathe a sigh of relief.
Let us pray for that redemption to happen soon.