The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on communities across the world and has had a devastating effect on Travel & Tourism. With COVID-19 related restrictions keeping tourists away, the impact on local communities, the wildlife, and the environment has been devastating.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2019, Travel & Tourism was one of the world’s largest sectors, accounting for 10.4 percent of global GDP (USD 9.2 trillion), 10.6 percent of all jobs (334 million), and was responsible for creating 1 in 4 of all new jobs across the world. Moreover, international visitor spending amounted to USD 1.7 trillion in 2019 (6.8 percent of total exports, 27.4 percent of global services exports). However, as a result of COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions to international mobility, the Travel & Tourism sector suffered losses of almost USD 4.5 trillion, with its global contribution to GDP declining by 49.1 percent compared to 2019 to reach only USD 4.7 trillion in 2020; relative to a 3.7 percent GDP decline of the global economy.
The benefits of Travel & Tourism spread far beyond their direct impacts in terms of GDP and employment; with indirect gains spreading through the entire ecosystem and the supply chain linkages to other sectors. While government support has been instrumental throughout this crisis, international coordination is more crucial than ever. The swift recovery of the sector will only be possible if leaders and public officials have a coordinated response to the resumption of international travel, including clear roadmaps, rules, and mobility protocols, providing certainty and restoring consumer confidence.
Key Themes Shaping the Industry
While the road ahead may appear uncertain, we anticipate that the challenges along the way can be converted into opportunities in Travel & Tourism. The sector will pivot and adapt to ultimately return stronger.
From a demand perspective, COVID-19 is transforming traveler inclinations and behaviors toward the familiar, predictable, trusted, and even low risk. Domestic and regional vacations, extensive research and planning, and the outdoors will reign in the short term, with tourism businesses and destinations already adapting accordingly. Proactive communication will be key to spur demand. Though the longevity of these shifts is still unknown, the Travel & Tourism sector has a unique opportunity to rethink and refresh prevailing business models, in partnership with local communities.
COVID-19 has ushered incredible revolution, disruption, discontinuity, and change in the hospitality industry at a scale and speed that we have never seen before.
Health & safety are paramount in this new era. Personal experiences, the fear of changing entry regulations, concerns for physical distancing, and having flexible cancellation policies will guide consumer behavior in the short- to mid-term. Businesses will have to collaborate even more closely with their extended value chains, especially employees and suppliers, to ensure readiness and the implementation of like-minded protocols. In this context, trust, between travelers and employees, businesses and suppliers, and visitors and local communities, will be a leading engine in the recovery of the Travel & Tourism sector
COVID-19 is also proving to be a catalyst in the Travel & Tourism sector’s quest for innovation and the integration of new technologies. Amid stay-at-home orders, digital adoption and consumption are on the rise, with consumers now expecting contactless technologies, among others, as a basic prerequisite for a safe and seamless travel experience. Cybersecurity is only becoming more important, particularly as remote work becomes the norm and as identities are digitized.
Time and time again, the disruption of the Travel & Tourism sector has led to a wave of innovation, followed by growth. While digitization and innovation offer tremendous opportunities for Travel & Tourism’s growth, which should be embraced, precautions are needed to make sure employees and local communities are not left behind.
Building Back Better: Sustainably & Inclusively
While COVID-19 devastated the Travel & Tourism sector, it also emphasized the urgency of “building back better” on solid foundations, with sustainability and stewardship – a responsibility to take care of the planet and its inhabitants – front and center. There have been growing awareness around climate, environmental and social issues, from sustainable destination development to waste management, climate neutrality, inclusivity, and mental wellbeing across the world. It is increasingly clear that we should respond with the same urgency and vigor to the climate crisis as we are to COVID-19, not only on ethical grounds but also because the travelers of tomorrow will demand it.
A Safe & Seamless Traveller Experience
The Coronavirus pandemic introduced new traveler expectations for more hygienic, touchless, and digital experiences as well as new requirements from governments for proof of a traveler’s COVID-19 status and a greater focus on infrastructure relating to health and safety. In this context, WTTC’s Safe & Seamless Traveller Journey (SSTJ) program evolved to include initiatives such as COVID-19 testing, digital health passes for travel, and risk-based frameworks for safe international mobility.
Given that it will take several years to vaccinate the world’s population, testing for travel will need to co-exist alongside vaccination for some time. Global interoperability of digital health passes for travel that captures and demonstrates an individual’s COVID-19 test, vaccination, or recovery status with strong user data privacy is key.
Be United & Clear Amid Chaos
As we start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and work to accelerate the resumption of international travel, it is essential to rebuild trust. While the pent-up demand is significant, changing restrictions have affected consumer confidence to book. A significant challenge in the last year for travelers has been the ever-changing and patchwork approach to travel policies. This has led to significant confusion for travelers who feel lost in a sea of information and misinformation.
To support the sector’s recovery, there is a need for a coordinated, consistent, and transparent approach to enable safe travel. Having harmonized and clear health & hygiene protocols support the sector in rebuilding traveler confidence, by providing them with the assurances of a safe, secure, and seamless experience. Indeed, if every destination or company has different standards, travelers will find it difficult to keep up.
Ultimately, for travelers to have peace of mind, they will need to trust travel operators and feel that they have all the information they need to decide for themselves. As we look to the future, let’s not compete on health and hygiene, but rather align and elevate the whole sector to turn wanderlust into reality for millions of travelers.
We must learn to co-exist with the virus, while managing the risk, offering safe travel experiences, and easing the restrictions. This is all possible through a comprehensive solution including an aggressive global vaccination rollout, a comprehensive testing regime for all non-vaccinated travelers, the elimination of quarantines, and continued health and hygiene protocols, including mask-wearing.
In addition, there is an urgent need to diversify and strengthen the resilience of the tourism economy, to better prepare for future shocks, to address long-standing structural weaknesses, and encourage the digital, low carbon transformations that will be essential to shift to stronger, fairer and more sustainable models of tourism development.