The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to an unprecedented halt, with tourism being one of the sectors worst affected by this sudden immobility of people and industries. Travelers have seen their dream holidays postponed if not cancelled, hotels and bed & breakfasts were forced to shut their doors for months, and people working in tourism have been furloughed or even lost their jobs entirely.
As lockdown is gradually lifted across the world and countries reopen their borders to international travel, the sector is finally ready to kick-start tourism's recovery.
But the general impression is that tourism really can't go back to the way it used to be: both travelers and people working in the sector will need to adapt to a 'new normal' as long as a COVID-19 vaccine isn't available.
CGTN Europe talked about how this might look like with a couple of professional holidaymakers, a hotel manager and a travel industry representative.
Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac are travel bloggers. Partners in business and in life, together they travel around the world and write about the different gay scenes of the places they visit on their blog Nomadic Boys. Living between the UK and Cyprus, they chose to spend their lockdown on the Mediterranean island.
Charlie Islam-Harry is the hotel manager at the St. Giles Heathrow Hotel in London, UK. During the worst of lockdown the hotel has remained closed, and it's now scheduled to reopen at the end of August. Islam-Harry is preparing for reopening by putting COVID-19 safety measures in place at the hotel.
Gloria Guevara is president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, a non-profit organization based in London which represents the global private tourism and travel sector. She has been very vocal about the support needed by the sector to survive this crisis.
What impact has the lockdown had on tourism?
Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac(the holidaymakers): Everyone who was thinking of traveling before, when the lockdown happened, they just stopped thinking about when are they going to travel again. People were just in the moment, trying to stay healthy and trying to respect social distancing – so obviously, all websites had a massive drop in traffic. Every single partner that we work with had the same impact. It's been very difficult for us. But now we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Things are changing slowly and now countries are reopening. Airlines are flying again.
Charlie Islam-Harry (the hotel manager): The impact is huge. I think it really does affect the hospitality industry, definitely. People have just stopped flying altogether. And with that, you know, we don't have the guests in our hotels.
Gloria Guevara (the industry executive): It has been devastating. The last number that we've published is that 120 million jobs could be lost around the world, and in the case of the UK that's 1.6 million jobs. And on top of that, you have the health component, and the economic and social impact. However, we understand that some measures are needed in order to protect lives and manage this unprecedented situation.
Many countries are now reopening their borders and encouraging international tourism. Do you support a return to traveling as it was before the pandemic, and why?
SA/SC: There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when you think about opening a country: it's hard to say 'I'm for opening a country or I'm against it', because it all depends how they measure people who are coming in, how do they screen them, the test that they're doing. That's the most important: how a country is going to reopen, not is it reopening or not reopening. It's how are they prepared for it.
CI-H: Definitely. Obviously, we have to still follow safety guidelines. And I think if every company follows that and makes it as safe as possible for travelers to travel again and also for hotels, for people to stay in again, then I don't see why not – as long as everybody's careful and everybody is responsible to protect ourselves and others. If it's all put in place properly, then yeah, why not?
GG: Absolutely. We just need to do the right thing, implementing the protocols – and the travelers respecting these protocols. And of course, testing, contact tracing, is another component that's very important for the experience.
This crisis is giving us the opportunity to accelerate the agenda on sustainability. You can travel in a sustainable way and protect nature
- Gloria Guevara, WTTC
How do you think the pandemic will change tourism?
SA/SC: We're expecting to see a spike in what they called 'staycations' after the 2008-09 recession. So Americans will stay in America, they will go to Florida or Puerto Rico or Miami. Brits will go around Britain. That's going to be the norm over the next six months. International traveling is going to be pretty much dead until a vaccine is found next year.
CI-H: Social distancing has become the norm now. Everybody is aware of what's expected: more PPE, visible in the high street when you're going shopping. I think people are just now adapting. They've adapted to the way it's going to be, for the short term anyway until we get any vaccines.
Long term, I think it's going to be a very slow process for people to start flying again as the norm. Realistically, we are looking at a good two years, I would say, to get back to the way we were before the pandemic.
GG: The experience before the vaccine is going to be different from how it was before COVID-19. You need to wear the mask. You need to have sanitizer. All the things that the medical experts are telling us are going to be in place, including testing, contact tracing, until we have a vaccine. After the vaccine is widely available and is spread, we'll have to have the component of the vaccine in our reservations.
But there are some things that are going to stay. In airports, they might be checking temperature – as you have seen perhaps in China and some countries that have more experience in the past with outbreaks, that they implemented these protocols way before the West.
Nobody is flying. Nobody's staying. There's no tourism. So it's just a complete stop for us
- Charlie Islam-Harry, hotel manager
What do you think governments should do to guarantee safety for tourists and people working in the sector?
SA/SC: Testing is the most important: being able to test every single person that arrives. Quarantine as well is very important: self-isolating if you've been traveling.
CI-H: They have to be a bit more consistent in the guidelines they're giving, it's very vague in certain areas. It needs to be a bit more concise as to what's expected by the industries, especially hospitality, as we're probably the last ones to open and reopen. There has to be more direct guidance from the government so everybody knows what's expected of them.
GG: There are some governments that had to step up and have done a great job protecting the workers, like the furlough scheme that we have in some countries or some destinations like the UK or France and others.
We need to make a point about helping travel agencies, helping hotels, restaurants and airlines, airports, all of these different components and industries and organizations. Part of that ecosystem, which is relevant and provides a lot of jobs around the world: currently, one out of 10 jobs depends on travel and tourism.
Video editing: Pedro Duarte. Video animation: Ben Wildi.