No time for timid responses

MADRID, 21 August 2020: The cost of the restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is evident for all to see says UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili in his latest message to global tourism stakeholders.

UNWTO calculates that between January and May, the sudden and rapid fall in tourist arrivals cost an estimated USD320 billion.

“That’s three times greater than the impact of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 on our sector – and this is just for the first five months of the year,” he explains.

“The re-opening of borders to tourism is a welcome relief to millions who depend on our sector. But this alone is not enough, especially given recent announcements and measures which seem further and further away from the international coordination that UNWTO has been calling for since the pandemic erupted.”

In what he calls uncertain times, the UNWTO chiefs says 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.”

While governments recognise the importance of tourism for jobs, economies and rebuilding trust, he says it is only the first step.

“Now, we must do everything we can to get people travelling again, following and implementing all the protocols which are part of the new reality.”

UNWTO engages in a sensitive balancing act. On the one hand, it recognises governments have a duty to put the health of their citizens first, but they also have a responsibility to protect businesses and livelihoods.

“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.

“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 difficult past months,” he concludes.

He warns that 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.”