The cost of the restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is there for all to see and between January and May, the sudden, rapid fall in tourist arrivals cost the world an estimated $320 billion. In a statement on 18 August, Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), says the re-opening of borders to tourism is a welcome relief to millions who depend on this sector.
“However, this alone is not enough, especially in view of recent announcements and measures which seem further away from the international coordination that UNWTO has been calling for since the pandemic erupted. In these uncertain times, people around the world need strong, clear and consistent messages. What they don’t need are policy moves which ignore the fact that only together are we stronger and able to overcome the challenges we face,” he says.
Pololikashvili says those in positions of leadership and influence have recognised the importance of tourism for jobs, economies and rebuilding trust, and this is only the first step. He says now they must do everything they can to get people travelling again, following and implementing all the protocols which are part of the new reality.
According to Pololikashvili, UNWTO has said from the start of this crisis, governments have a duty to put the health of their citizens first, however they also have a responsibility to protect businesses and livelihoods. He says for too long and in too many places, the emphasis has overly focused on the former and we are now paying the price.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. As a sector, tourism has a long history of adapting and responding to challenges head-on. In recent weeks, global tourism has led the way in finding and implementing solutions that will help us adapt to the new reality as we wait for a vaccine that could be many months away,” says the secretary-general.
Rapid but rigorous testing at ports and airports and tracing and tracking apps have the potential to drive the safe restart of tourism, all of which builds on the learning curve of the behaviour of individuals and societies during these past months. These solutions need to be fully embraced, not just cautiously explored.
Pololikashvili says to delay will be a catastrophe and risk undoing all the progress they have made to establish tourism as a true pillar of sustainable and inclusive development. He says moreover, it will be the most vulnerable members of our societies who will be hit the hardest as those most shielded from the economic and social consequences of tourism’s standstill urge continued caution.
“Short-sighted unilateral actions will have devastating consequences in the long run. By and large, people have learned how to behave in a responsible way. Businesses and services have put protocols in place and adapted their operations. Now it's time for those making the political decisions to close the gaps, so that we all can advance together,” says Pololikashvili.