Tourism can rebound, says UN body
MADRID – The United Nations’ World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) has noted the tough times that Caribbean and tourist-dependent countries are undergoing amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but predicts that the industry will rebound soon.
“Tourism may have been brought to a near-standstill by COVID-19, but the industry – which accounts for ten per cent of global GDP [gross domestic product] – finds itself in a unique position to help put the global economy back on its feet, once the pandemic has passed,” said UNWTO, which is closely monitoring the new coronavirus crisis from its Madrid headquarters and collaborating with other UN agencies on ways to mitigate its impact.
“COVID-19 has impacted travel and tourism like no other event before in history,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, ahead of a recent meeting of the agency’s Global Tourism Crisis Committee at its Madrid headquarters.
The UN said that the committee, which brings together participants from around the world via video-teleconference, is tackling such key questions as how borders will reopen, what mobility will look like and what tourists will be seeking when they emerge from so many weeks of self-isolation at home.
“With tourism suspended, the benefits that the sector brings are under threat,” Pololikashvili said. “Millions of jobs could be lost and progress made in the fields of equality and sustainable economic growth could be rolled back.”
But he also emphasised that tourism – which employs one in ten workers worldwide, and with a proven track record for resilience during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the 2003 SARS outbreak – is also well-placed to lead future recovery.
“Our sector will provide the jobs people need to bounce back and will drive economic growth that will help whole communities and countries to recover,” Pololikashvili said.
The UN said political and financial commitments are key to ensuring that tourism can lead wider economic and social recovery.
It said UNWTO is thus calling for financial and political support for the tourism industry, and for the sector to be included in wider recovery plans and actions.
“For now, we must be patient and stand ready,” the UNWTO chief said. “By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow. And travelling tomorrow will support jobs, celebrate culture and promote international friendship and understanding.”
According to UNWTO estimates, global international tourist arrivals in 2020 could fall by 20 to 30 per cent compared to last year.
That translates into a loss of $30 to $50 billion in spending by international visitors, the UN said.
To put that in context, in 2009, on the back of the global financial crisis, it said international tourist arrivals fell by four per cent, while the SARS pandemic in 2003 led to a decline of just 0.4 per cent.
Given uncertainty over how the crisis will unfold, UNWTO stressed that estimates must be treated with caution, and that current forecasts might well need to be revised.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Montreal-based UN agency, said this week that, according to preliminary estimates, the new coronavirus outbreak will see airline passenger numbers drop by 503 million to 607 million in the first half of 2020, compared to initial forecasts for the year.
The biggest impact is expected to be felt in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, followed by North America and the Middle East, ICAO said. (CMC)