COMMENTARY: The Safe Restart Of Tourism Is Possible


UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

The cost of the restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is there for all to see. Between January and May, the sudden and rapid fall in tourist arrivals cost an estimated $320 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. 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 in view of 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 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.

Those in positions of leadership and influence have recognized the importance of tourism for jobs, economies and rebuilding trust. This is only the first step. 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.

As 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. 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. 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.

These solutions need to be fully embraced, not just cautiously explored. To delay will be a catastrophe and risk undoing all the progress we have made to establish tourism as a true pillar of sustainable and inclusive development.

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 its time for those making the political decisions to close the gaps, so that we all can advance together.

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  1. For too long governments have focused too much on the health and safety of their citizens?


    This op-Ed is just absurd.

    And no people shouldn’t be traveling unless necessary during a pandemic

    • I keep seeing this comnent and I must ask this if a country who’s main source of income comes from tourist how can it remain closed off for at lease 2 years? Who will the country function without money? Espically one where at lease 45% of the work force is employed by the same money loving government? What are some of your sloutions?

      • Life is more important than money. Secure our borders and keep the citizens safe.

        We need to stop depending solely on tourism. It’s easy to depend on the easy tourist funds. Start growing our own foods whether it be land or ocean based.

        There is ample land that can be used for the farming of different crops and animals. Most things can be cycled so as to not completely delete the natural resources. We have the ocean where we can start farming and all the while being eco-friendly.

        Go green. Stop depending on fossil fuels. Once the green infrastructure is in place we only need to add on to it and not have to pay to replenish the said fossil fuels. We have ample sun, wind and ocean current to make hydro electricity. This will also reduce our carbon footprint.

        Start doing these things and possibly the tourists will start coming in and that will be a bonus to our economy instead of being our main source of income.

        That said, we will probably need a loan to get things going in the right direction but those funds can’t be in the hands of govt. It would have to be meted out by a completely trustworthy entity that would also ensure that these projects have been implemented before paying out. This also means complete transparency from the top down to the last penny.

        • Antigua cannot even grow enough food to feed the whole island never to export. And even if we were to lead tourim behind we would need to find a new source of income which would match the level of income tourism brings in. No place in the world can remind closed off. Not even those big developed counties such as the US UK Canada China. We must learn to live with this virus and adjust to the new norm.

          • You are correct. We will all get the virus at some point. It’s just another strain of the flu.

            Forget about export, we take care of ourselves first then then if there’s any excess, we export. We can grow enough to sustain ourselves AND everyone needs to be involved.

            Yes not closed off but not heavily dependent on tourism as the only source of revenue. We concentrate on our island and well being and the tourists will come.

  2. We have been throwing eggs in one basket for too long. The only time they see importance of Farming is through the pandemics dont know when we will wake up. A country that depends only on tourism is not an independent country. It baffles me a times they say we have the sweetest pineapple but i dont see much is done to increase the production , distribution to help build this nation in food security .

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