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How the UN civil aviation agency is helping airlines take off again

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airplane travel

In normal times, the world’s airlines would be carrying nearly 2 billion international passengers this year. That’s 5.7 million a day. But with the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the planet, these are not normal times. In its latest analysis of the economic impact of novel coronavirus on global commercial aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) warns of a potential overall reduction of 872 million to just over 1.3 billion international passengers – if signs of recovery emerge in late May.

Should the worldwide slump drag into the third quarter of 2020 or later, that number could soar to 1.124 billion to 1.54 billion travellers, as airlines slash the number of seats on offer by 49 to 72 per cent.

Planes grounded; billions lost

If that is the case, air carriers could find themselves grappling with $198 billion to $273 billion in lost gross operating revenue from their international operations.

Montreal-based ICAO released the figures this week, saying they are the most complete since it started issuing regularly updated analyses of COVID-19’s impact on air transport, in February.

The UN specialized agency, which brings together 193 Member States, is providing ongoing guidance to air transport planners, regulators and operators as the novel coronavirus crisis unfolds.

“In today’s updated analysis, the analytical timeframe was extended for another three months to December 2020, and more reliable air fare data was used to calculate revenue reduction”, said ICAO Secretary-General Fang Liu.

In releasing the figures on Thursday, and as it looks ahead to a post-COVID-19 world of travel, ICAO cautioned that its figures are not forecasts, but rather scenarios that indicate possible paths or consequential outcomes, out of many.

Many variables

The actual impact will depend on many factors – including the duration and magnitude of the outbreak and containment measures, government assistance, economic conditions and the degree of consumer confidence for air travel.

What is known is that, for Asia-Pacific airlines, the COVID‐19 pandemic has already surpassed the 2003 SARS outbreak that prompted a $6 billion drop in revenue. In that instance, it took just six months for the industry to return to pre-crisis levels.

Without the pandemic, ICAO said, international passenger demand could have gone up by 67 million this year, as airlines planned to grow their seat capacity by 3.4 per cent over 2019.

The biggest drop in demand now is expected to be in Europe during its peak summer travel season, followed by the Asia-Pacific region.

Take off for Aviation Recovery Task Force

In addition to its analysis, ICAO announced this week the creation of a COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force, to identify and recommend strategic priorities and policies for States and industry operators alike.

It aims to leverage all available government and industry data to come up with solutions to the immediate challenges that civil aviation is facing across the board – and priorities to be addressed in a post-COVID world.

“An effective recovery of international air transport is essential to support the post-COVID-19 pandemic worldwide economic recovery,” ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano told the Task Force at its first meeting.

“International air transport has faced several crises in the past from which it was able to regain its position, thanks to timely initiatives by ICAO.” He said.

He added: “The progress achieved over the course of decades could be entirely erased if international air transport does not resume soon and effectively.”

Making up the new Task Force, are ICAO Council members and the directors-general of all major air transport industry associations, among others. UN entities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) are also represented, as well as the heads of several national and regional aviation administrations.

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Tourism

UNWTO and Greece to Collaborate on Maritime Tourism Research Centre

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UNWTO is to collaborate with the Greek Ministry of Tourism in establishing a first research station dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism across the Mediterranean.

The new monitoring centre will be based at the University of the Aegean in Greece. From here, experts will capture and collate measurement data and analysis relating to the environmental, economic, and social impact of tourism.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Coastal and Maritime tourism is one of the most important economic drivers within the Mediterranean basin. This new research centre can provide key data to guide the restart and future development of the sector, ensuring it fulfils its potential to provide opportunity for coastal communities and to protect and celebrate natural and cultural heritage.”

The United Nations specialized agency and the Ministry of Tourism confirmed their collaboration on the initiative during the UNWTO High-Level Conference on Coastal and Maritime Tourism, held in Athens and co-hosted by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Celebrity Cruises.

The Tourism Minister of Greece Harry Theoharis said: “I express my immense gratitude for UNWTO’s support in this endeavour. The Research Center will soon become a reference point for the study and protection of our coasts and seas.”

Pierfrancesco Vago, Global Chairman of CLIA and Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises added: “CLIA is pleased to support the UNWTO research and monitoring centre on sustainability and coastal maritime tourism in the Mediterranean. As part of the cruise industry’s commitment to responsible travel, we are pursuing carbon neutral cruising in Europe by 2050, and we work closely with cruise destinations and coastal communities to support economic growth in a sustainable manner.

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Tourist Numbers Down 83% but Confidence Slowly Rising

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International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.

Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili comments: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.

Overall, 60% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January. Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4223532/embed?auto=1 Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.

The Impact of COVID on Tourism cuts global exports by 4%

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$ 900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$ 1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70% in real terms) and the Middle East (-69%) saw the largest drops in receipts.

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Tourism

Empowering Indigenous Communities to Drive Tourism’s Recovery

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Photo: Alex Azabache/Unsplash

The cultural diversity and knowledge of indigenous peoples can bring innovative experiences and new business opportunities for tourism destinations and local communities, and help them recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has partnered with the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) on a set of guidelines, designed to ensure this type of experiences are respectful and led by the indigenous communities themselves.

The new UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 4: Indigenous Communities, is the fourth set of guidelines addressing the socio-cultural impacts of COVID-19 issued by UNWTO. The partners call for placing Indigenous communities at the centre of recovery plans and for partnerships geared towards gathering accurate data on Indigenous tourism, and how it has been affected by the pandemic.

These recommendations draw on the partners’ expertise and set out solutions for the socio-economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through tourism. These include transitioning from “assisting” to “enabling” indigenous entrepreneurship, strengthening skills and building capacities, fostering digital literacy for running tourism businesses, and acknowledging the relevance of indigenous peoples by destination authorities and the tourism sector overall.

The Guide, launched on the occasion of the International Day of Cultural Diversity, builds on the decade-long partnership between UNWTO and WINTA. The two organizations work together to enable indigenous communities untap their tourism potential and promote their success stories. The most recent collaboration, the Weaving the Recovery Project, focuses on empowering Indigenous women through responsible tourism experiences and indigenous artisanship in Latin America.

The recommendations also benefitted from inputs provided by the Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In recent years, the OECD has also significantly advanced its policy research and promotion of good practices and networks championing indigenous tourism within its Member countries.

UNWTO stands ready to support platforms which reinforce indigenous peoples’ networks, making them the ultimate decision makers of tourism operations affecting their livelihoods.

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