What does the future of travel look? Can the sector bounce back post-Covid?

If you were asked what you missed most during lockdown what would you say? Seeing anyone outside of your family? Shopping in an actual store? Playing tennis? All of the above?

High on my list would be travel.  I do miss working abroad, and look forward to the day I do more with my passport than blow the dust off of it. 

And I’m not alone. In 2019, travel and tourism represented 10% of global GDP. In 2020 this fell to just  5.5% of global gdp.

We saw 120 million people lose their jobs in tourism alone.  This hit young people and small entrepreneurs hard as they account for 80% of the global tourism sector. In developing markets, small and micro-businesses dominate tourism — particularly in growing sectors such as agri-tourism and eco-tourism where entrepreneurs are watching their investments wither.

Global GoalsCast investigated both how to make it safe to travel and how to build back the trust last week in our Clubhouse event last week.  We hold these weekly with the Global Impact Club – join us!

Here are a few things we explored.

1 The decline in tourism has been catastrophic for some parts of the globe

Mafalda Borea told me about some of the work Sustainable First is doing in Kenya.  She told me that the safari camps in Africa haven’t received any sort of income over the past year and the impact is brutal.  The money from tourists pays for the rangers that keep the poachers at bay. The rangers haven’t been paid which has meant that the poachers have been able to go on a killing spree. So, the impact on wildlife is devastating. 

2 Traveling is relatively Covid safe – the real problem occurs when people arrive

There have been quite a few studies that have concluded that aeroplanes and airports are not actually a significant source of transmission by contact.

Part of that has to do with the way that aeroplanes are designed. People get Covid19 when they have prolonged interaction with somebody who is infected. Yet the way that air flows on a plane means that the air is constantly recycled keeping that risk low. Airports too have put in many Covid-safe procedures.

It is what people do on either side of travel that matters. There’s a service being developed by the International Air Transport Association service called destination tracker which will have up to date information on the restrictions at each destination as well as the requirements of each airline.  It will allow tourists to finally start making informed choices.

3 Infection-safe travel is not a new concept – we have been doing it for years

One person who spoke at the event was Mark Siddal who as a biodiversity scientist has worked in 30 countries on five continents. Mark is an expert in parasites and worked with Jimmy Carter on an exhibition on how Guinea worm was largely eradicated.

He reminded us that in many parts of the world you have to show show your yellow card which shows you has been vaccinated for yellow fever and other infectious agents.  He added that if you want to see the gorillas in Rwanda, you have to make sure you’ve been vaccinated for measles. The upshot is we are very attuned to the fact that we don’t want to be taking infections to indigenous communities

How then do we take this concept mainstream? Mark explained: “Let’s suppose you want to go to Peru. The government should sign you off if you can show you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19  measles, yellow fever etc Covid could become one in a series of things that they would be concerned about in terms of the indigenous communities. And I think what we need to do is to allow vaccination certificates when it comes to intercontinental inter-country travel. We need to allow individual countries to set their rules and respect those.”

4 Over tourism has become under tourism 

The economic effects of this pandemic are immense. We don’t know which partners from the travel and hospitality industries will survive this crisis. We know from certain parts of the world, that a lot of businesses have had to close down already. One of our guests told us how in Germany, restaurants and hotels have basically been closed since November.

In some cities like Berlin, they had been complaining of over tourism. Now it is more likely to under-tourism that’s the issue. The trend has been replicated across the globe’s largest tourist hubs. In New York City for example, there were 13 million visitors from outside the USA in 2019, this fell to 2 million in 2020.  These are both business and tourism travellers and they support hundreds of thousands of jobs in restaurants, theatres, hotels and museums. The arts sector has been hit especially hard. One in five broadway theatre goers in 2019 was visiting the city from outside the United States. The sector can’t return to any kind of normality until the visitors come back. Handling how the tourists come back is an important issue. It must be managed sympathetically.

5 There is a role for travel, in terms of keeping the global community, connected about information about human rights information, biodiversity and much more which we must not lose

Pato Gaibor – Executive Director at Ecuadorian Ecotourism Association told us that Tourism used to represent 50% of the economy of Ecuador.   85% of Ecuador’s businesses are small businesses – and 30 or 40% of those businesses have closed their doors. And like other middle income countries, Ecuador faces challenges because they have less access to the vaccine. At present under 2% of the population has been vaccinated.  One fascinating fact Pato told us was that the government has created a safe bubble for people to go to the Galapagos Islands by vaccinating all of the inhabitants there. As we’ve seen, tourists are essential for the sustainability of the economy, so the government has found a way for tourism to continue to help the country recover.  

6 Sport could play a major role in driving European travel

While the event was running, UEFA, the body which runs European football, announced that Euro 2021 games – which are set for June/July – would be played in stadiums with fans. The organisation is going to allow spectators into the actual games and the stadiums will be 25 to 40% full. This could be a litmus test of whether travel and crowds are compatible with the post-Covid world. It’s interesting too that UK travel companies, specialty hose relating to sports are reporting a mini-boom in bookings for events like the Euros, the Rugby World Cup and others. So travel is clearly back on the agenda for many sports fans.

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels