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Latin America’s Tourism Industry Must Address Long-Standing Shortfalls to Bounce Back after COVID-19

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New analysis from the World Economic Forum shows that some of Latin America’s and the Caribbean’s tourism strengths are less important than before to a competitive tourism economy during COVID-19. The onset and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the factors that make a country’s travel and tourism sector competitive. Certain factors, such as healthcare capacity and digital travel offerings, are increasing in importance during the pandemic. Other factors, like international openness – a primary strength of Latin America – are now less important.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Latin America and Caribbean region was improving in terms of travel and tourism competitiveness, but most of its economies still performed below the global average.Tourism slowdowns give policy-makers and business leaders in the region a chance to reassess their tourism practice and policies, especially in infrastructure and unsustainable tourism development, which are particular risks to the region’s long-term tourism resilience.

“COVID-19 has had a severe impact on the travel and tourism sector, with some parts of the sector effectively shut down completely,” said Christoph Wolff, Head of Mobility at the World Economic Forum. “Considering that tourism accounts for nearly 10% of the world’s jobs, it’s important that countries take serious measures to ensure their tourism is competitive and ready to bounce back as COVID-19 measures are rolled back and countries begin to reopen.”

In Latin America, these changes in travel competitiveness are particularly troublesome. Europe and other countries with more ample health resources have a better chance of containing and managing COVID-19 cases than other countries with less-developed health resources, potentially speeding up a safe reopening of their travel sector. For example, Latin America’s and the Caribbean’s healthcare capacity constraints are exemplified by the particularly low levels of hospital beds there, with 42% fewer beds per 10,000 people than the global mean.

Similarly, higher ICT readiness will allow tourism companies and their supply-chain partners to provide more services digitally – a growing advantage when person-to-person interactions are constrained. Competitiveness components such as a favourable business environment and labour markets can also act as supply-side stimuli, generating relief and accelerating the recovery.

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that the travel and tourism industry accounts for 10.2% of GDP in the Latin America and Caribbean region. In some countries, such as Jamaica, tourism accounts for a much higher percentage of GDP. The current downturn is having a major effect on economies heavily dependent on tourism.

Despite the downturn, the region’s long-term prospects for remain encouraging, as travel and tourism growth has continually outpaced global GDP growth for the past decade. While the region benefits from rich natural resources and improving international openness, numerous obstacles remain. These include unfavourable business, safety and security conditions, gaps in health and hygiene, underdeveloped infrastructure and environmental issues.

Latin America and Caribbean countries can use this time to re-evaluate their tourism development projects and build for a better sector in the future. For example, opportunities exist within their infrastructure gap. Good air transport is critical to Latin America’s travel competitiveness, especially considering the region’s hard-to-traverse terrain. Pandemic shutdowns have further slowed infrastructure projects but also offer an opportunity for countries in the region to reassess their ongoing projects and direct attention to the most critical areas. Building infrastructure for a better balance between tourism and local demand will be particularly important.

Improving travel and tourism competitiveness requires collaboration between the public and private sectors. Moreover, stakeholders must recognize the need to consider environmental and socio-economic sustainability in their decision-making. Approaches that focus only on driving short-term tourism demand have the potential to weaken the long-term resilience of the travel and tourism industry.

By improving their travel and tourism competitiveness, countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region can help the travel and tourism industry survive, recover and “build back stronger” from the impact of COVID-19.

The Latin America and Caribbean Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Landscape Report uses competitiveness rankings and data from the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Ranking (TTCR), and puts them in the context of COVID-19 and the changes the pandemic has brought to the travel and tourism economies in the Latin America and Caribbean region. The TTCR is a biennial report that ranks countries on the competitiveness of their travel and tourism sectors; the most recent edition was released in September 2019.

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Tourism Restarts: 40% of Destinations Have Now Eased Travel Restrictions

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The responsible restart of tourism is underway around the world as growing numbers of destinations ease COVID-19 related travel restrictions and adapt to the new reality. According to the latest analysis from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 40% of all destinations worldwide have now eased the restrictions they placed on international tourism in response to COVID-19.

The United Nations specialized agency for tourism has been monitoring global responses to the pandemic from the start of the crisis. This latest outlook, recorded on 19 July, is up from 22% of destinations that had eased restrictions on travel by 15 June and the 3% previously observed by 15 May. It confirms the trend of a slow but continuous adaptation and responsible restart of international tourism.

At the same time, however, of the 87 destinations that have now eased travel restrictions, just four have completely lifted all restrictions, while 83 have eased them while keeping some measures such as the partial closure of borders in place. This latest edition of the UNWTO Travel Restrictions Report in addition shows that 115 destinations (53% of all destinations worldwide) continue to keep their borders completely closed for tourism.

Responsible restart is possible

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The restart of tourism can be undertaken responsibly and in a way that safeguards public health while also supporting businesses and livelihoods. As destinations continue to ease restrictions on travel, international cooperation is of paramount importance. This way, global tourism can gain people’s trust and confidence, essential foundations as we work together to adapt to the new reality we now face.”

According to the UNWTO report, destinations with a higher dependency on tourism are more likely to be easing restrictions on travel: Of the 87 destinations that have eased restrictions recently, 20 are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), many of which depend on tourism as a central pillar of employment, economic growth and  development. The report also shows that around half (41) of all those destinations that have eased restrictions are in Europe, confirming the leading role of the region for the responsible restart of tourism.

Many destinations still in long-term lockdown

Looking at the 115 destinations that continue to have their borders completely closed to international tourism, the report finds that a majority (88) have been completely closed their borders for international tourism for more than 12 weeks.

The cost related to the travel restrictions introduced in response to COVID-19 has historic dimensions. This week, UNWTO released the data on the impact of the pandemic on tourism, both in terms of lost tourist arrivals and lost revenues. The data shows that by already by the end of May, the pandemic had led to US$320 billion in lost revenues, already three times the cost of the 2009 Global Economic Crisis.

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Tourism Sector to Continue Taking Action on Plastic Pollution

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A new set of Recommendations published today outline how the global tourism sector can continue in its fight against plastic pollution while effectively facing the public health and hygiene challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ongoing pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard, putting more than 100 million jobs at risk. Now, as countries begin to recover and tourism restarts in a growing number of destinations, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, led by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has provided a plan of action for both public and private sector stakeholders to address the root causes of plastic pollution in these challenging times.

The Recommendations for the Tourism Sector to Continue Taking Action on Plastic Pollution During COVID-19 Recovery illustrate how reducing the plastic footprint, increasing the engagement of suppliers, working closer with waste service providers, and ensuring transparency on the actions taken, can significantly contribute to the responsible recovery of the tourism sector.

Businesses and governments united

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “As the tourism sector restarts, we have a responsibility to build back better. Not managing the transition into the new reality we are facing, including the strong focus on health and hygiene measures, in a responsible manner may have a significant environmental impact, which is why this renewed commitment is vitally important. We are proud to announce the first signatories to the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative today.”

When not properly disposed of, products such as gloves, masks and sanitiser bottles can end up polluting the natural environments around major tourist destinations.

UNEP Economy Division Director, Ligia Noronha adds: “We need to take a science-based approach and support governments, business, and local communities to ensure we are taking the most effective measures to protect hygiene and health without creating pollution and causing harm to our natural environment. These recommendations addressing hygiene and disposable plastic can support tourism sector stakeholders in their efforts towards a responsible recovery.

Accor, Club Med and Iberostar Group Commit to Initiative 

The recommendations come as major global tourism companies Accor, Club Med, and Iberostar Group cement their commitment to fighting plastic pollution and become three of the first official signatories to the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, along with more than 20 signatories from across all continents, including major industry players and supporting organisations which will act as multipliers. Alongside these, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a member of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative Advisory Committee and has informed these latest recommendations.  

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Coronavirus: Facts about your passenger rights

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Flight cancelled due to Covid-19? Don’t wish or not allowed to travel? Find out about your passenger rights in the EU in these exceptional times.

All EU countries have introduced containment measures – such as travel restrictions, quarantine zones and lock-downs – to deal with the corona pandemic. These measures are having a major impact on the transport sector, so be sure you know your passenger rights.

On 18 March, the European Commission presented detailed guidelines to guarantee that EU passenger rights are applied in a coherent way and passengers are protected across all EU countries.

What if my flight is cancelled?

Airlines cancelling flights have the obligation – in all cases – to offer passengers the following options:

  1. Refund
  2. Re-routing at the earliest convenience
  3. Re-routing at a later date, chosen by the passenger

If you choose re-routing at the earliest convenience, take into account there may be considerable delays given the limited number of flights that currently operate due to national measures to contain the virus.

Do I have the right to a hotel and meals in case of cancellation?

Air carriers have the obligation – without exception – to provide free meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation for passengers whose flight is cancelled and have chosen re-routing at the earliest convenience.

Am I entitled to compensation?

Air passengers have the right to compensation if their flight is cancelled less than two weeks before the departure date, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances”. This exception may apply in the case of the corona outbreak, where the measures taken by public authorities prevent the normal activity of airlines.

What if I want to cancel my trip?

If you cancel your trip on your own initiative, the refund depends on the type of ticket you purchased, as specified in the terms and conditions. Consult the carrier for more details.

I have been offered a voucher instead of a cash reimbursement. What are my rights?

Passengers have the right to choose between vouchers or refunds for all cancelled tickets – including flights, train, bus, coach and ferry – and for travel packages.

According to EU guidelines published on 13 May, vouchers should have a minimum validity period of one year and have to be refunded after maximum one year if they are not used. Transport companies should be flexible, for example allowing passengers to travel on the same route under the same service conditions. Vouchers should also be transferable to another traveller.

The European Union is the only place in the world where everyone travelling by plane, rail, ship and bus are protected by a full set of passenger rights.

Avoiding empty flights

Airport rules oblige airlines to operate most of their take-off and landing slots, if they do not want to lose them the following season.

On Thursday 26 March, Parliament approved the Commission proposal to temporarily suspend EU rules concerning airport slots, in order to stop so-called ghost flights. The adopted measures were approved by the Council on 30 March and entered into force retroactively from 1 March (from 23 January for flights between the EU and China or Hong Kong).

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