Tourism amid pandemic: Silver lining in the clouds

Globally, travel and tourism are the significant contributors to a leading sector for job creation, socio-economic and cultural development worldwide. In many countries, tourism and leisure industry plays a critical role as a strategic pillar of the economy’s GDP. However, it has also become the most vulnerable industry member. Before COVID-19, travel and tourism had become one of the most important sectors in the world economy, accounting for 10% of global GDP and more than 320 million jobs worldwide.

At the inception of jet age in early 50’s only 25 million people took foreign trips. By 2019, that number had reached 1.5 billion, and the travel and tourism sector had grown to almost too-big-to-fail proportions for many economies.

The global pandemic, the first of its scale in a new era of interconnectedness, has put 100 million jobs at risk, many in micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises that employ a high share of women, who represent 54 percent of the tourism workforce, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

This industry always experiences the hardiest-hit of various diseases, epidemics, seasonal influenza, and global pandemics. The tourism industry encounters the massive adverse consequences of the “black swan” major crisis events, including the global financial crunch in 1997 and 2008, the SARS epidemic in 2003, various social unrests, and earthquakes. The emergence of the deadliest viral disease has affected all economic sectors and overwhelmed tourists and customers’ satisfaction. Economic activities and business services are contingent on expert forecasts that are based on traditional methods. Accurate forecasting methods for the academic world and business operations is required to respond to the COVID-19 impacts. Since late December 2019, the advent of the present pandemic COVID-19 has developed unprecedented global health crises, social emergencies, and profound adverse consequences on the global economy. The current COVID-19 pandemic has reflected socio-economic impact on various tourism. The stakeholders will suffer from the adverse effects for a longer time as the COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on tourism organizations (including intermediaries, transportation planners, and accommodation or attraction providers) based on attributes such as the size, venue, management, and governance types of the tourism industry. The leisure, travel, and inbound tourism activities designated a steeper drop causing $2.86 trillion losses that made up 50% plus loss in revenues.

The tourism and leisure industry’s growth rate accelerated in the 2010s due to many countries’ active mobility and participation. China and the United States are two key market players besides intra-European countries tourism that have primarily contributed to the growth in travel and tourism. The increase in tourist numbers has caused some challenges, and numerous destinations attempted to find sustainable paths in coping with travelers’ high intensity.

Regardless, the travel and tourism industry has developed positive impacts and a significant contributor to the European economy. It directly contributed approximately 782 billion euros to the EU economy in 2018 and created 14.4 million jobs. The statistics indicated the growing number of international tourist arrivals from 2010 to 2019 worldwide. The statistics of 2019 stipulated that there were 146.4 million arrivals of international tourists in North America and 61.4 million in the Middle Eastern countries. The appearances of international tourists showed a year-on-year increase between 2010 and 2019. Europe was one of the major destinations for international travelers in terms of region of origin. The European region accounts for more than 50% of international tourist arrival worldwide, and it is the most visited region globally, according to UNWTO. The travel and tourism industry has become a key driver of cultural and socio-economic progress, and it creates millions of employment opportunities within the travel industry.

Europe region is the sole major contributor to the global travel and tourism industry. EU tourism presents one trip out of two by making up a 50% share of worldwide tourism. Tourism in European countries makes up nearly 48% of the entire outbound travel and tourism activities globally. The leisure industry is one of the main components of the global service industry. Travel and tourism provide a substantial contribution to business operations and ultimately contribute to the worldwide economy. The travel and tourism sector is an economic driver to the destination country’s local GPD.

In 2019, estimations documented that travel and tourism remained a significant contributor to the world economy. It contributed growth of 9.3 trillion US dollars to the global economy, with a direct contribution of 2.9 trillion US dollars. On the other hand, the travel and tourism industry has faced the hardest-hit of the COVID-19 outbreak and showed a 98% sharp decline in May 2020, which reflected travel bans and restrictions worldwide, amid preventive measures for containing the quick transmission of the pandemic.

According to the data information reported by destinations, there was a drastic decline of 56% in arrivals of global tourists in the first five months of 2020 compared to 2019 data for the same period. There were 300 million decreased arrivals of global tourists From January to May 2020 compared to 2019 for the same time. It reported a 320 billion dollars loss in terms of international tourism receipts based on export revenue, more than 300% less than the economic crisis impacts in 2009.

Asia and Pacific

Asia and the Pacific region were the first to suffer and recorded a steep 60% drop in arrivals from January to May 2020. The current pandemic’s appearance has resulted in a global economic and health crisis and posed unprecedented disruptions to the world economy’s leading sectors.

Tourism receipts worldwide are not expected to recover to 2019 levels until 2023. In the first half of this year, tourist arrivals fell globally by more than 65 percent, with a near halt since April—compared with 8 percent during the global financial crisis and 17 percent amid the SARS epidemic of 2003, according to ongoing IMF research on tourism in a post-pandemic world.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that the contribution of tourism to the world economy this year will be $1.9 trillion which is slight better than last year’s $1.6 trillion but still far lower than the $3.5 trillion the industry earned in 2019.

From the white sand beaches of the Caribbean, Seychelles, Mauritius, and the Pacific to the back streets of Bangkok, to Africa’s sweeping national parks, countries are grappling with how to lure back visitors while avoiding new outbreaks of infection. The solutions range from wooing the ultra-rich who can quarantine on their yachts to inviting people to stay for periods of up to a year and work virtually while enjoying a tropical view.

Through September 2021, there were still 76% fewer international tourists than in 2019, and the U.N. forecasts that the global tourism economy will end the year about 70% to 75% below 2019 levels.

The recovery of the tourism industry is regional, and some areas are faring better than others. Southern and Mediterranean Europe and North and Central America all saw international tourism through September increase over last year, and the Caribbean recorded a 55% jump in arrivals. But Asia and the Pacific saw 95% fewer international tourists compared to 2019.

The October issue of World Economic Outlook had projected the global economy would contract by 4.4% in 2020. The shock in tourism-dependent economies will be far worse. Real GDP among African countries dependent on tourism will shrink by 12%. Among tourism-dependent Caribbean nations, the decline will also reach 12%. Pacific island nations such as Fiji could see real GDP shrink by a staggering 21% in 2020.

Financing mechanism

All over the world, tourism-dependent economies are working to finance a broad range of policy measures to soften the impact of plummeting tourism revenues on households and businesses. Cash transfers, grants, tax relief, payroll support, and loan guarantees have been deployed. Banks have also halted loan repayments in some cases. Some countries have focused support on informal workers, who tend to be concentrated in the tourism sector and are highly vulnerable.

An analysis of the tourism industry by McKinsey & Company says that multiyear recovery of tourism demand to 2019 levels will require experimenting with new financing mechanisms.

The World Tourism and Travel Council in a report on the future of the industry said the pandemic has shifted travelers’ focus to domestic trips or nature and outdoor destinations. Travel will largely be kick started by the less risk averse travelers and early adopters, from adventure travelers and backpackers to surfers and mountain climbers.

Small commercial hoteliers are at risk of losing their property assets because they cannot receive “accommodation charges” to pay their mortgage as COVID-19 is expected to maintain and strengthen current concepts and models, this “root” of tourism work. All this comes from the ongoing recession and rising costs for travel companies. The COVID-19 tourism research requires a careful study of workers’ mental, physical, and psychological conditions with a COVID-19 background, such as health, participation, virtual work environment, and other human resources. For instance, during isolation time of the COVID-19, virtual teams and jobs, regular governance, recruitment, leadership, and promotion opportunities fail to encourage, motivate, and retain employees who have re-changed their values and principles.

Employment slowdown

The COVID-19 tourism impacts on employment have put more pressure on tourism education. It has seriously affected job creation opportunities worldwide. Due to virtual learning and teaching, students also have to deal with training interruptions, recruitment, and unstable employment opportunities in the tourism business. Tourism programs, initiatives, and academic universities face the challenge of reducing new student enrollment, marketing and government support, and research funding. Tourism scholars should consider innovative approaches and research opportunities to determine organizational distance, taking into account the mental health and privacy issues of stakeholders affected by COVID-19. Similarly, teaching aspects must be explored, such as the planning and implementing more “sustainable,” flexible, and flexible methods of tourism teaching and the development of students with transferable and practical skills in other business sectors.

Social entrepreneurship

Besides, other specialized subjects in the field of COVID-19 are worth investigating. Social entrepreneurship over the past decade increased due to tourism, such as during the 2008 economic crisis. The COVID-19 facilitates these tourism social projects, aiming to build social impact, address the social problems arising from COVID-19, and help those in need. The rapid expansion of relevant social tourism enterprises in COVID-19 provides several opportunities to practice and accurately understand this concept in new biodiversity, stakeholders, and conditions.

Particular attention should be paid to family entertainment: special programs for children and adolescents, the development of appropriate menus, entertainment systems, etc. Future pandemics are likely to recover fully, so tourism must first provide high-quality sanitation measures. For example, all hotels may require protective masks and gloves for employees, visitors, and disinfectants. To avoid overcrowding, restaurants should serve their customers in shifts. The beach can be divided into blocks separated from each other to maintain social distance.

Measures of betterment

Besides, scientists, the government, and the tourism industry should agree and hold the latest tourism sector discussions to better tourism. Travel companies and their partners in each region can recently start using their time to make their proposals more sustainable, if financially possible. The time has come to reposition the tourism industry and change the tourism products. There is a need to review the measures and prevent abandonment, at least in part after the coronavirus pandemic from mass tourism, which we previously knew. Specifically, among the comprehensive measures for tourism development in the COVID-19 pandemic, the study recommends that the Government develop a significant initiative with specific proposals to improve tourism.

Amid fears that the newly discovered COVID-19 variant named Omicron could disrupt global travel once again, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published its latest update on the state of international tourism on Sunday.

According to the latest World Tourism Barometer, global travel activity rebounded sharply in the third quarter of 2021, while remaining far below pre-pandemic levels.

International tourist arrivals increased by 58% percent in the three months ended September 30 compared to the same period of 2020 but remained 64% below 2019 levels. Looking at the first nine months of 2021, the situation looks even bleaker with international arrivals down 20% even compared to 2020 and 76% percent below pre-COVID Levels.

Looking ahead, as UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili rightly said that “we cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector.”

While the latest rebound is certainly encouraging, the recovery of the global tourism sector has been going slower than many had anticipated last year. According to its latest forecast, the UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to remain 70 to 75% below 2019 levels this year. That translates to roughly $1 trillion in foregone export revenues, which amounted to $1.7 trillion in 2019 and are expected to reach $700 to $800 billion this year. Even this forecast could prove too optimistic, however, if the Omicron variant turns out to be as dangerous as initially feared.

There are silver linings in the clouds. Domestic tourism is way up, as travelers are taking shorter trips closer to home. Also, both international and domestic travelers are spending more money per trip because of larger savings and pent-up demand, though that could also be due to longer stays and higher prices.

The author, Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh could be reached at [email protected]

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