WEARY of the COVID-19 epidemic and feeling the pinch of significant financial losses during the months of the coronavirus crisis, the world is in a hurry to open borders, restart air traffic and resume tourist travel without even waiting for the pandemic to fizzle out. Simultaneously, many countries are doubling down on developing and testing vaccines and drugs against this dangerous scourge. Many heads of state hope that once this pandemic is over, everything will return to normal.
Will it really? Will we have to live in a changed reality?
Many scientists, physicians, experts and politicians around the world are trying to find answers to these questions. Many researchers believe that international tourism, which until recently had been on the rise, was among the economic sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.
It is no secret that many small, and not so small countries now live off inbound tourism. According to experts, this year the tour industry as a whole may lose up to $3.3 trillion and a huge number of jobs.
Small wonder, therefore, that after three months of isolation and border closures, the industry just can’t wait to get back into business and make up for the lost time. It is against this backdrop that the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is publishing new data about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this popular sector.
UNWTO analysts emphasize the need for responsibility, safety and protection of tourists when travel restrictions are lifted, and reiterate the need for a strong commitment to supporting tourism as an important driver of a global economic recovery.
While in some parts of the world, above all in Europe and America, tourism, domestic as well as international, is now resuming, many travel restrictions still remain.
Fully aware of this, the UNWTO has reiterated its call on governments and international organizations to support tourism, a lifeline for millions and the backbone of the economy.
Measures being implemented to this effect by governments include a gradual lifting of restrictions, creation of tourist corridors, resumption of some international flights, and improvement of safety and hygiene protocols.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is urging tour industries around the globe to mandate the use of face masks as protection against the spread of the COVID-19 infection.
Moreover, such safety measures will have to be applied for quite some time. In addition, the WTTC recently released new guidelines for safe and hassle-free travel, including testing and monitoring, frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and more.
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.
European media, meanwhile, continues to report paradoxical cases in the countries of Ibero-America. For example, Spanish newspapers write about Barcelona’s historic Liceu Opera opening for its first concert after months of lockdown. However, instead of playing to an audience filled with art-loving VIPs, the UceLi string quartet serenaded a leafy audience of 2,292 plants. The “Concert for the Bio-Public” conceived by conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia marked the theater’s reopening to the public after Spain ended its state of emergency in June.
The well-educated, albeit disturbingly silent audience, that featured a variety of plants, including fig trees and palms, brought in by local nurseries, enjoyed the performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi before being handed over tolocal health workers “in recognition of their dedication to the pandemic.” The concert was broadcast live on the theater’s website.
Recent polls in Spain show that more than 65 percent of the country’s citizens will spend their vacations at home. According to a survey conducted by the Spanish government’s Center for Sociological Research, most Spaniards are not going on vacation this summer, and only one in ten plans to go abroad.
After the coronavirus pandemic, 65.7 percent of respondents said they ruled out going on vacation, and seven percent were undecided. Of the meager 27.2 percent who intend to go on vacation, over 90 percent will opt for domestic destinations, and only six percent would like to go abroad.
Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 28,000 deaths, is opening its borders to almost everyone in the European Union.
However, representatives of Spain’s tour business, which accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP, fear that in the event or a new coronavirus outbreak their clients could become infected or get stranded in a foreign country.
Meanwhile, people in some countries already feel the psychological impact of the pandemic, with studies showing that those who survived the quarantine now value their work and personal space more than before. Going to work reflects a certain degree of harmony in one’s life, when someone does not feel alone, left one-on-one with everyday home routine. Not to mention the importance of earning money, of course.
As for personal space, people have learned to enjoy being alone, reading a book, writing poems, whatever. Not so when there are several people sharing a small apartment and having to give up some of their habits and hobbies.
People get tired of each other. In April-May, many complained about family problems and divorces, but psychologists say that the number of such complaints has been going down and that the need to maintain social distancing has taught people to build personal boundaries – a habit, which in some countries was seriously weakened during the times of collectivism.
The modern generation has also learned a lot about viruses and infections, hygiene and sanitation. And, of course, after months of forced self-isolation, many people now prefer to promenade and travel more than they did before.
Experts say that the worldwide slogan “We Will Travel Again” contains not only a promise to return to normal life, but also a commitment to rebuild a sector faced with the need to resist, rethink and adapt to new market demands and make sure that tourists always feel safe wherever they go.
The prominent Spanish tour business expert, journalist and publisher José Carlos de Santiago recently saw “the light at the end of the tunnel.” In an article, published in his magazine Excelencias, referring to the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of tourism activities in the world, he writes that recent global research gives a reason for cautious optimism, not only in Europe where the pandemic curve begins to go down, and more decisive measures are taken to contain the spread of infection.
In the Americas, the Caribbean islands are opening their borders to international tourism: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Montego Bay have courageously reopened to international visitors and North American planes are already landing there in compliance with strict COVID-19 health regulations.
New standards include sanitary controls, travelers are checked before flying, the use of digital technologies has been expanded, additional disinfection is done both inside airports and on the planes, payment for tickets and services are made with credit cards and when with cash, then with the mandatory use of face masks.
José Carlos de Santiago adds, however, that according to World Tourism Organization experts, the first signs of recovery will not be felt before the last quarter of 2020, and underscores the need to move towards more sustainable tourism in economic, social and environmental aspects. The road to recovery is just beginning, and as the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer, many questions still remain, the journalist concludes.
Caribbean News Digital online newspaper on tourism has published a list of nine major short- and long-term changes that the tour industry will go through in the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic.
Thus, when they reopen, the theme parks, museums and other highlights that usually attract a great number of people will deal with smaller and more controlled crowds. The museums will also try to make sure that visitors feel safe and are properly separated from each other. The requirement for wearing face masks may also remain, and antiviral cleaning will be carried out throughout the day.
Airlines already require that passengers and personnel all wear face masks, refuse to serve food and drinks during flights, and increase the frequency of cleaning. Some are now asking travelers to fill out medical questionnaires, and check passengers’ temperature, but federal authorities are taking additional steps to get this done.
In a recently released guide, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) outlines a list of new regulations. Airports are also changing their modus operandi and may revise some rules for the passengers’ movement in and around the terminals. When travel resumes in many countries, the initial focus will be on domestic tourism.
As for international tourism, much depends on the situation with the epidemic in each country. While airlines may believe that they charge passengers for everything, from seat selection to baggage check-in, in fact, deregulation has reduced the cost of one mile of flight, making international travel more affordable than ever before. Some travelers fear, however, that due to the pandemic the airlines may reduce the number of passengers flying overseas, thus jacking up the cost of other international routes.