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Tough times for tourism, but UNWTO predicts holiday traffic will return

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Tourism may have been brought to a near-standstill by COVID-19, but the industry – which accounts for 10 per cent of global GDP – finds itself in a unique position to help put the global economy back on its feet, once the pandemic has passed. 

That’s the view from the World Travel Organization (UNWTO), which is closely monitoring the new coronavirus crisis from its Madrid headquarters and collaborating with other UN agencies on ways to mitigate its impact. 

Millions of jobs potentially lost 

COVID-19 has impacted travel and tourism like no other event before in history”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili, ahead of a meeting last Thursday of the agency’s Global Tourism Crisis Committee at its Madrid headquarters. 

That committee, which brings together participants from around the world via video-teleconference, is tackling such key questions as how borders will reopen, what mobility will look like and what tourists will be seeking when they emerge from so many weeks of self-isolation at home. 

 “With tourism suspended, the benefits that the sector brings are under threat”, he said.  “Millions of jobs could be lost and progress made in the fields of equality and sustainable economic growth could be rolled back.” 

Sector well-placed to lead recovery 

But he also emphasized that tourism – which employs one in 10 workers worldwide, and with a proven track record for resilience during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the 2003 SARS outbreak – is also well-placed to lead future recovery. 

“Our sector will provide the jobs people need to bounce back and will drive economic growth that will help whole communities and countries to recover”, he said in a statement in mid-March. 

Political and financial commitments are key to ensuring that tourism can lead wider economic and social recovery.  The UNWTO is thus calling for financial and political support for the tourism industry, and for the sector to be included in wider recovery plans and actions. 

“For now, we must be patient and stand ready”, the UNWTO chief said.  “By staying home today, we can travel tomorrow. And travelling tomorrow will support jobs, celebrate culture and promote international friendship and understanding.” 

30 per cent drop-off 

According to UNWTO estimates, global international tourist arrivals in 2020 could fall by 20 to 30 per cent compared to last year.  That translates into a loss of $30-$50 billion in spending by international visitors. 

To put that in context, in 2009, on the back of the global financial crisis, international tourist arrivals fell by 4 per cent, while the SARS pandemic in 2003 led to a decline of just 0.4 per cent. 

The Word Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), an industry group, meanwhile says that up to 75 million tourism-related jobs are at immediate risk, with the Asia-Pacific region expected to be most heavily impacted with up to 49 million jobs at risk. 

No room at the inn 

What’s more, 96 per cent of all worldwide destinations have put into place travel restrictions in response to the pandemic, the UNWTO said this week.  Some 90 destinations have completely or partially closed their borders to tourists, while another 44 are closed to certain tourists depending on their country of origin. 

Having said that, given uncertainty over how the crisis will unfold, UNWTO is stressing that estimates must be treated with caution, and that current forecasts might well need to be revised. 

Avoiding the airport 

Over at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Montreal-based UN agency said this week that, according to preliminary estimates, the new coronavirus outbreak will see airline passenger numbers drop by 503 million to 607 million in the first half of 2020, compared to initial forecasts for the year. 

The biggest impact is expected to be felt in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, followed by North America and the Middle East, ICAO said. 

On Wednesday, ICAO encouraged national governments to ensure efficient authorizations for the entry, departure, and transit access of flights intended for the repatriation of their foreign nationals and other eligible persons. 

Eighty percent of the global tourism sector is made up of small- and medium-sized enterprises, according to the UNWTO, which has long promoted the industry’s key role in fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Big Apple no more?

Typical of these is a New York City travel agency run by Zhan Di that caters to tourists from China.  It had expected 22 tour groups during the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) holiday season that started on 25 January.  Only two arrived. 

To make ends meet, Mr. Zhan has redeployed his small fleet of minibuses to deliver Amazon parcels, hopeful that if the pandemic runs no longer than three to five months, Sino-US tourism will blossom anew. 

“The epidemic situation is not only a big test for our industry, but also for the whole world,” he recently told UN News.  “However, I believe that the economy will recover quickly … because this is not a regular economic recession, but an epidemic situation.” 

“Therefore, I think the recovery should be very fast – and I am still optimistic.” 

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Tourism

Green Hotel Investments to #RestartTourism

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Destination Capital (DC) has signed a collaborative arrangement with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) of the United Nations to support the rejuvenation of the hotel industry. The arrangement supports the relationship DC has with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to promote investment in green and sustainable tourism accommodation and to stimulate re-employment, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The collaboration between UNWTO and Destination Capital is based on DC’s adoption of best practices aimed at reducing carbon emissions and operating hotels in a manner consistent with IFC’s environmental and social criteria. Against this backdrop, DC acquires and repositions freehold hotels of 150-250 rooms in Thailand and across South-East Asia with the aim of implementing sustainable water and energy systems. It also works to promote gender equality at every level of the hospitality sector, another of UNWTO’s core priorities and in line with Sustainable Development Goal number 5.

While governments and destinations around the world are working on vaccination programs to accelerate the restart of the tourism, UNWTO is working with the private sector to encourage employers to play their part in the recovery of local communities through job creation and training programs. UNWTO data shows that international tourism arrivals fell by 1 billion in 2020, with the crisis carrying over into 2021. Worldwide, this has placed as many as 120 million tourism jobs directly at risk. Moreover, Asia and the Pacific has been the worst-affected of all global regions, and young workers and women are among the hardest hit by the downturn in tourism employment.

In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, DC recognizes the hotel industry not only has a responsibility to re-hire and re-train hotel staff. It is also increasingly under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint and mitigate the impact of energy and water consumption as well as food waste and environmental degradation. DC is committed to retrofitting its hotels to be compliant as ‘green hotel’s as per the Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) standards established by IFC.

About Destination Capital

Destination Capital is a private equity real estate investment company based in Bangkok Thailand which focuses on acquiring, renovating and repositioning hotel assets such that they are EDGE compliant and follow a rigorous sustainability protocol in order to unlock value for our capital partners. Rigorous asset manage programs are in place to yield higher values upon exit while pursuing a “Triple Bottom Line” strategy: Planet, People, Profit.

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Promoting ‘Brand Africa’ to Realize the Continent’s Tourism Potential

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UNWTO’s African Member States will work together to establish a new narrative for tourism across the continent. To better realize tourism’s potential to drive recovery, UNWTO and its Members will also work with the African Union and the private sector to promote the continent to new global audiences through positive, people-centred storytelling and effective branding.

With tourism recognized as an essential pillar of sustainable and inclusive development for the continent, UNWTO welcomed high-level delegates to the first Regional Conference on Strengthening Brand Africa. The conference featured the participation of the political leadership of host country Namibia, alongside public and private sector leaders from across the continent.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed the common determination to rethink as well as restart tourism. “African destinations must take the lead in celebrating and promoting the continent’s vibrant culture, youthful energy and entrepreneur spirit, and its rich gastronomy”, he said.  

Windhoek Pledge puts people first

On the back of a series of workshops and a Ministerial Think Tank, UNWTO’s African Member States unanimously endorsed the Windhoek Pledge on Advocating Brand Africa. Under the terms of the Windhoek Pledge, Members will engage both public and private sector stakeholders as well as local communities to build a new, inspiring narrative for tourism across the continent. They will identify positive, human-centred stories, and through strengthened partnerships with the media, showcase them to the world, reaching new and diverse tourism source markets.

Over the coming weeks, UNWTO will work with all signatories to create a common roadmap towards establishing Brand Africa. This will include establishing common values and goals and identifying funding needs and opportunities as well as providing branding toolkits for destinations, including guidelines and recommendations and training and capacity building in market intelligence, digital marketing and data management.

Bilateral meetings show support for tourism

Alongside the conference, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, held high-level talks on the restart of tourism with President of Namibia Hage Geingob, as well as with the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and with the African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Albert Muchanga

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New report on single-use plastic products aims to advance sustainability in travel and tourism

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The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), launch a major new report today, addressing the complex issue of single-use plastic products within Travel & Tourism.

‘Rethinking Single-Use Plastic Products in Travel & Tourism’ launches as countries around the world begin to reopen, and the Travel & Tourism sector starts to show signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic which has been devastating.

The report is a first step to mapping single-use plastic products across the Travel & Tourism value chain, identifying hotspots for environmental leakages, and providing practical and strategic recommendations for businesses and policymakers.

It is intended to help stakeholders take collective steps towards coordinated actions and policies that drive a shift towards reduce and reuse models, in line with circularity principles, as well as current and future waste infrastructures.

The report’s recommendations include redefining unnecessary single-use plastic products in the context of one’s own business; giving contractual preference to suppliers of reusable products; proactively planning procedures that avoid a return to single-use plastic products in the event of disease outbreaks; supporting research and innovation in product design and service models that decrease the use of plastic items, and revising policies and quality standards with waste reduction, and circularity in mind.

Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President and Acting CEO, WTTC said: “WTTC is proud to release this important high-level report for the sector, focusing on sustainability and reducing waste from single-use plastic products in Travel & Tourism.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the sustainability agenda with businesses and policymakers now putting an even stronger focus on it. As a growing priority, businesses are expected to continue to reduce single-use plastic products waste for the future and drive circularity to protect not only our people, but importantly, our planet.

“It is also becoming clear that consumers are making more conscious choices, and increasingly supporting businesses with sustainability front of mind.”

Single-use plastic products can be a threat to the environment and human health and without deliberate effort across the sector, Travel & Tourism can and will contribute significantly to the issue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had both negative and positive impacts on single-use plastics pollution.

The demand for single-use plastics items has increased with safety being a high concern among tourists and take-away services being on the rise. According to the Thailand Environment Institute, plastic waste has increased from 1,500 tons to a staggering 6,300 tons per day, owing to soaring home deliveries of food.

However, the pandemic has also catalysed consumer demand for green tourism experiences around the world, with a 2019 global study finding 82% of respondents are aware of plastic waste and are already taking practical actions to tackle pollution.

The report recognises that global solutions are required to address corporate concerns about the use of single-use plastic products. It aims to support informed decision making based on the potential impacts of trade-offs and of unintended burden shifting when considering the transition to sustainable alternatives.

Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of the Economy Division, UNEP said:

“Travel & Tourism has a key role to play in addressing the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as making circularity in the use of plastics a reality.

The advent of COVID-19 and consequent proliferation of single-use plastic products has added urgency to the crises. With this report, we hope to encourage stakeholders in this industry to come together to address this multifaceted challenge. Only by doing so, can we ensure meaningful and durable change.”

With around 90 percent of ocean plastic derived from land-based sources and the annual damage of plastics to marine ecosystems amounting to US$13 billion per year, proactively addressing the challenge of plastics within the Travel & Tourism sector is key.

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