How can tourism recover from the ravages of COVID-19?
By Sajjad Malik

People visit the Colonna Palace in Rome, Italy, May 23, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

International travel came to almost a complete halt after the COVID-19 disease spread from one country to another in quick succession, forcing nations in its wake to shut doors on foreigners.

The World Tourism Organization said that the number of international tourist trips could dwindle by 60% to 80% in 2020. The dire prediction is in stark contrast to an earlier rosy assessment made before the eruption of the disease that global tourism is poised to grow by 3% to 4% this year.

It would have consequences for the world economy because the tourism industry has about a 10% share in the world's GDP and jobs market. It accounted for 330 million direct and indirect jobs worldwide in 2019.

Traveling, whether for fun or business, involves a whole range of sectors, from the small tour operators to big airlines, hotels and restaurants, cruise operators, local guides, and gift shops. As tourism dropped, all these segments came under the long shadow of the virus.

The International Labor Organization estimate shows that the pandemic related measures by countries could cause nearly 305 million job losses globally in tourism while the international tourism economy could contract between 45% to 70%.

According to an article published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), the impact of COVID-19 is being felt throughout the entire tourism ecosystem, and it will take time before reopening and rebuilding of destinations.

The World Health Organization has recently warned of a second wave of COVID-19. Given such circumstances, the revival of the tourism industry will be slow. Some experts say that things will start moving in a positive direction by the end of July. But even if it happened, global tourism could fall by 58%. It is the best-case scenario.

Last year, the industry rose by 4% or $1.5 billion in additional turnover. In the changed situation, industry-related losses will be in the range of $910 billion to $1.2 trillion. The impact on nations that are dependent on tourism will be even worse.

"The collapse of tourism resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound impact on the Asia-Pacific small island developing States because of their high reliance on tourism rents. The pandemic will disproportionally influence the lives and well-being of the poorest and the most vulnerable, including workers in the informal sector," according to the article by UN-ESCAP.

But even the murkiest situations are not without hope. And so should be the case of the post-pandemic tourism industry. As hundreds of millions of people have been forced to live under lockdown, the urge to move out and travel will be the strongest once the restrictions are lifted. The rush will create competition, and various companies might also offer more friendly travel packages.

Smart nations will use the opportunity and plan to attract more visitors once things get better. So, it is time to prepare for the future and capitalize on the new demand.

According to a recent study – OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus – countries are developing recovery mechanisms to support the tourism industry. "These include considerations on lifting travel restrictions, restoring traveler confidence and rethinking the tourism sector for the future."

The study recommends a comprehensive tourism recovery package that includes stimulating demand with new safe and clean labels for the sector and information apps for visitors and domestic tourism promotion campaigns.

It means that tourism can rebound, but it needs a sustained and well-targeted policy. Since it is easier to convince domestic tourists to start visiting places of their choice, countries should first revive the local industry before attracting foreign tourists.

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with 

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