Tourism decline under Covid-19

Almost one year ago, a pneumonia detected in Wuhan, China, was first reported to WHO country office. From that starting point the novel virus spread rapidly in the country region that, as preventive measure to contain the virus, was immediately put into lockdown.

Around April, the Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at approximated 2 million in over 200 countries which all responded with NPIs, nonpharmaceutical interventions, like home isolation, voluntary/required quarantine, social distancing, closure of schools and universities and postponement of socials events and sport initiatives.

Together with these measures, international and regional travel restrictions have been introduced making the tourism demand decline: from airlines to cruises ships to hospitality sector. Particularly, the impact of the virus has been able to shout down accommodations and resources attractivity that have always been fundamental elements of the touristic supply chain; restaurants could only continue their activities through take away and delivery service but many of them prefer to close temporarily all the activities if they could not apport all the government adjustments.

In a few months, the framing of global tourism system moved from over-tourism to non-tourism as illustrates by blogging, articles and photos (Condé Nast Traveller, 2020) and it seems to be a permanent, transformative step for the tourism sector due to its own peculiar characteristics: the unsold capacity determines the tourism revenue to be permanently lost.

It is important to say that the global tourism has been exposed to many pandemic crisis in the past; some examples are the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003, Swine flu 2009-2012, Mers (Middle east respiratory syndrome) in 2012 and Ebola outbreak during 2014-2016.

Even if the reasons for increasing pandemic threats in the 21st century could be connect to the rapid growth and mobile world population, the urbanization trends, the industrialized food production in global value chains and the developing of global transport networks able to act like “vectors” in the spread of pathogens, all these disease outbreaks are the result of the man-made impact on ecosystems and its diversity.

As regarding the projected impacts, various industries have already published the consequences of covid-19 for the global tourism industry in 2020. The magnitude of the impact is fundamental to understand if the pandemic will develop further.

As UNWTO mentioned, it has already been observed a 20-30% decline in 2020 international arrivals that would translate into concrete losses of tourism receipts of US$300-450 billion. The WTTC, on the other hand, estimated a loss up top to US$2.1 trillion in 2020.

For anyone employed in global tourism, the crisis has become soon a personal moment of uncertainty: many businesses have already laid off most of their staff.

In the airlines sector, at least those airlines as Scandinavian airlines, Singapore airlines, Virgin and TUI, a German tour operator, have already received an excess of US$15 billion in state aids. Furthermore, several climate campaigners have already called on governments to bail out airlines only on conditions including a focus on workers, emission reductions and carbon pricing.

In accommodation sector as well, the industry revenue forecasts a significant decline, and the domestic markets are encouraged to recover first.

Sport events and MICE, social distancing will remain a major part of NPIs strategies to limit the speed of the pandemic. According to these solutions major sport leagues a eps Europe and America have been postponed including the UEFA EURO 2020 and the Summer Olympic Games. Small and Medium restaurants as well are facing problems recovering since they usually experience limited liquidity and small profit margins.

The sub-sector of the cruises is often setting for outbreaks of infections because of their closed environment (contacts among travellers from different countries).

The American Enterprise institute (2020) has already outlined a series of steps to follow aiming at firstly containing the spread of the virus and later aiming at banish the disease for good.

The first phase should consist in slowing the spread; to move to phase two some conditions needs like sustainable reduction in new cases and the ability from the hospitals to treat all patients requiring hospitalisation without resorting to crisis standard of care, to be achieved.

Further, in the second phase, it has been suggested the majority of schools, universities and businesses to reopen but home working should continue where convenient in order to limit contact within the community.

Then, when a vaccine is developed and received authorization to be implemented, phase three should be follow and NPIs can be lifted. Only once the vaccination is completed, global tourism could re-start leading to the final phase of rebuild readiness for the next pandemic.

In conclusion, the magnitude of what the Corona-19 has been done so far was certainty unexpected but there is no urge to return to business as usual.

The pandemic itself is raising some questions ,that need to be rightfully addressed, related to the role of domestic tourism in the recovery and long-term transformations, the doubt of the pandemic as a way to “tighter” border and support nationalism, the role of the financial stimulus and the consequences for austerity and climate change: a striking lesson for sure able to accelerate, as we hope, the transformation or at least a reorganization step by step for a new sustainable tourism.

Fanny Trivigno

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Stefan Gössling, Daniel Scott & Michael Hall (2020): Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19, Journal of Tourism.