Across Europe, the responsible restart of tourism is now underway. But even as growing numbers of tourists cross borders and businesses open up again, this is no time for complacency .
Just as we stressed at the beginning of this crisis: words of support are not enough for tourism to recover. Concrete actions are needed.
For UNWTO, this means supporting Member States and the wider tourism sector as it adapts and transitions towards a more resilient and sustainable future.
The visit of a UNWTO delegation to the Canary Islands allowed us to do just this.
Through inviting members of the media, private sector leaders and political leaders to join us for this official visit, UNWTO was able to show that tourism’s return can be managed safely and responsibly. It is possible to prioritise health while at the same time safeguarding jobs and promoting economic recovery!
At the same time, the innovation running through our sector means that the restart of tourism can help get the global community back on track as we work together to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The UNWTO Sustainable Development Goals Startup Competition, which was launched this week, will identify new ideas with the power and potential to reimagine tourism and enhance the sector’s positive impact on people and planet. I urge all entrepreneurs and innovators to step up and take part. Only through embracing the new can we emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead, including addressing inequality and climate action.
As we look to the future, however, we must also pause to reflect on the terrible human cost of the pandemic. This week, I was honoured to join His Majesty King Felipe VI, alongside the Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and guests including the Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO, as well as other national and international political leaders at a special event to commemorate all those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Spain.
The presence of such high-level figures from within and also from outside of Spain was testament to the international solidarity that has characterised our response to this pandemic. It also represented an opportunity for us all to express our appreciation to the health workers who worked – and continue to work – on the frontline of this public health emergency.
Throughout this crisis, our host country has shown great resolve. It now carries that spirit into a determination to grow back and recover.
UNWTO offers our full support to Spain, as we do to every other Member State, and will continue to work closely with the government to ensure tourism fulfils its unique potential as a tool for economic recovery and social cohesion.
Reframing tourism to address plastic pollution
At the intersection of greater environmental awareness, stricter public health measures and the return of the tourism industry lies an enduring threat: plastic pollution.
Research shows that increased production and use of personal protective equipment in 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly contributed to plastic pollution on beaches and elsewhere.
But it is not just the COVID-19 pandemic that is leading to an increase in plastic pollution. A new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, shows that plastic pollution has been increasing year on year, even before the pandemic.
There is currently between 75–199 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean, and in 2016 some 9–14 tons of waste entered the aquatic ecosystem. But by 2040, it is estimated that this will have almost tripled to 23–37 million tons per year. Plastics are the largest, most harmful and most persistent of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 per cent of all marine waste.
Changes to the traveller, government and institutional approaches are necessary to address the plastic crisis and protect human and environmental health.
Experts say that reducing single-use plastic product consumption and adhering to public health and sanitary measures to protect from COVID-19 and other diseases is not mutually exclusive.
“During the pandemic, we have seen a misconception on reusable products, such as steel water bottles being less safe than single-use plastic water bottles,” says Helena Rey de Assis, UNEP Programme Manager. “This wrong perception has increased the use of single-use plastic products by consumers and affected government and tourism operators’ regulations. Single-use plastic items and packaging are not sanitization measures in themselves. The virus can survive on these, and they can be contaminated during their transport or handling.”
Rey de Assis says travellers on holiday can take steps to reduce the amount of waste they generate while saving costs. Bringing one’s own bags, water bottles and toiletries can decrease the burden on local waste and recycling infrastructure. It would also gradually reduce local economies’ dependency on single-use plastic products.
UNEP’s Clean Seas platform – the largest global coalition devoted to ending marine plastic pollution – has produced an interactive project entitled “What’s in your bathroom?” highlighting the prevalence of plastic in common personal care products. As many of these products are available in tourist accommodations, shifting to viable alternatives can help reduce the threat of plastic.
The impetus on reducing plastic pollution does not lie solely with individuals. Strong legislation has been shown to be an effective means to ban, reduce or phase out single-use plastic.
Bans can prompt the local tourism sector to innovate, provide visitors with environmentally friendly options, and educate consumers. In Kenya, the ban on single-use plastics has addressed its “plastic pollution catastrophe,” according to Najib Balala, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
“The ban has improved the state of Kenyan beaches and national parks with reduced visible plastic pollution,” says Balala. “Efforts should be global because even if we clean our country, we will always have plastics that are thrown from ships in high seas swept to our beaches. Therefore, I would like to make a worldwide appeal for people to reduce the use of single-use plastics, and eventually, abolish it altogether.”
Tourism operators, businesses and institutions can also take the initiative to voluntarily support the shift away from the industry’s reliance on plastic. Leading the way in voluntarily reducing plastic use can reap commercial benefits. Less litter, for example, can lead to more picturesque views and more visitors.
The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (GTPI), co-led by UNEP, requires national and local governments, private companies and supporting organizations in the tourism sector to commit to reducing plastic pollution and shift towards circularity by 2025.
The online travel platform Booking.com is one of over 100 signatories to the GTPI committed to creating a circular economy of plastics. This commitment includes steps to eliminate single-use plastics while maintaining health protocols.
“While we agree that health and safety is of the utmost importance, we also saw that many of our partners were unaware of alternative, plastic-free ways to offer high levels of cleanliness and hygiene at their properties,” said Thomas Loughlin, Sustainable Supply Lead at Booking.com. “This is why we published our own set of guidelines, created in partnership with the GTPI. We wanted to make sure our partners had access to a broader range of credible, practical information, so they could make more informed decisions about how to tackle these challenges in a sustainable way.”
UNEP has partnered with Flipflopi, a circular economy movement based in East Africa, and Routes Adventure to release a short film entitled “Pieces of us,” set in the tourist destination of Lamu, Kenya. The film highlights the role that visitors have played in shifting the local economy towards a reliance on tourist-oriented products.
Following pandemic-enforced closures, travellers, governments, and institutions have a unique opportunity to reframe the tourism industry with sustainability at its heart. Now is the time to fight back against plastic pollution and ensure a cleaner, more resilient and more economically viable future.
Holiday Travel Cleared for Take Off, but COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Journey
After more than a year and half of the pandemic, the holiday travel season will get a strong start with 3 in 10 of all trips Americans plan to take slated for Thanksgiving.
Over the course of the holiday travel season, two-thirds of travelers will fly and/or stay in paid lodging. Over half (58%) of travelers say they expect to spend about the same on travel as they did in 2019, and 1 in 5 will spend significantly more, driven by higher-income households.
Travelers continue to be concerned about COVID-19 and are embracing mitigation measures, saying they are more likely to book a flight if masking (64%) or vaccinations (58%) are required.
Workplace flexibility is giving holiday travel a boost, spurring 75% of travelers who plan to work during their trips to add extra days because of the ability to work remotely.
Why this matters
The holidays are a time to connect with family and friends, and this year a return to travel will make spirits bright for many. According to Deloitte’s inaugural report, “2021 Deloitte Holiday Travel Survey,” Americans plan to hit the roads and skies, as well as hotels and private rentals, to rekindle holiday traditions, but health and financial concerns still weigh on their minds. The report is based on a survey of 6,512 Americans fielded Sept. 9-23, and among those, 2,759 qualified as travelers, and a smaller subset of 1,501 travelers noted they would stay in paid lodging during the holiday season.
Travelers cautiously plan for holiday getaways
The survey uncovers plenty of reason to hope for leisure travel’s robust rebound, but due to ongoing health and financial concerns, some consumers plan to celebrate the holidays at home. For those not traveling, concern about the health of loved ones and waiting for the pandemic to end are the top reasons to stay home, beating out financial concerns.
The holiday travel season will kick off with a strong start with 3 in 10 of all trips Americans plan to take slated around Thanksgiving. Overall, 42% of Americans plan to travel between Thanksgiving and mid-January, taking an average of two trips during the season.
Older Americans are more cautious about the season: 36% of those over 55 years old plan to travel, compared to 45% of 18 to 34 year olds. Those 55 and older also are less likely to participate in travel activities and experiences. For example, 13% will attend a ticketed or public event, compared to 35% of those aged 18 to 34, and 27% will visit a major attraction, compared to 53% of those aged 18 to 34.
About twice as many travelers plan to road trip (70%) versus fly (37%), citing enjoyment (38%) and convenience (28%) as the top reasons, above health (12%).
More than one-third of holiday travelers (37%) will take a flight over the holidays. Domestic flyers are avoiding layovers; only 6% plan to take a domestic flight requiring a connection. Nearly 1 in 3 of those who will fly, plan to take an international flight.
While 60% will take trips involving a stay with friends or family, slightly fewer (54%) will stay at a hotel or private rental. Nearly a quarter plan to both stay in paid lodging and with friends and relatives across the season.
The pandemic continues to mint new private rental travelers: 43% of those staying in rentals over the holidays have tried this lodging type for the first time during the pandemic. Three in 4 new private renters expect to continue using rentals for at least half of their trips going forward.
Income divide deepens across the travel sector
Bifurcated spending on holiday leisure travel is making the experience merry for some, and bah-humbug for many others. Most travelers say they expect to spend about the same on travel as they did in 2019, and 1 in 5 will spend significantly more. However, a greater share of lower-income households will spend significantly less, and are almost three times as likely to cite financial reasons for staying home.
Higher-income Americans are almost twice as likely to travel this holiday season compared to lower-income Americans (53% versus 32%).
Spending intent also varies widely. Compared to 2019, 26% of lower-income travelers plan to spend less on holiday travel, compared to 30% of higher-income travelers who plan to spend significantly more. Approximately half (48%) of higher-income travelers will spend more than $5,000 on their longest trip, while half (50%) of lower-income travelers will spend less than $1,000.
While 43% of travelers will take one trip over the holiday season, 1 in 3 higher-income travelers will travel three or more times, compared to 1 in 5 lower- and middle-income travelers who travel with the same frequency.
Furthermore, higher-income travelers are more likely to stay in paid lodging (63% versus 43% for lower-income travelers), and nearly twice as likely to fly (48% versus 26% for lower-income travelers).
The frequency of travelers driving their own car for holiday travel is nearly equal across income levels (56% for lower-income travelers, 58% for middle-income travelers, and 55% for higher-income travelers).
Travelers embrace COVID-19 requirements
Lingering health concerns continue to impact when and how Americans travel for the holiday season. In selecting a destination, travelers are considering their vaccination status, local COVID-19 restrictions, and ability to avoid crowds.
Most travelers embrace COVID-19 transmission mitigation measures. Nearly two-thirds (64%) are more likely to book a flight if masking is required, and 58% say the same for proof of vaccination.
A full two-thirds of high-income travelers say vaccine requirements make them more inclined to fly. However, 16% of travelers say a vaccine requirement would make them less likely to fly; 10% say the same for masking.
Vaccination status of those in the travel party and the destination’s COVID-19 restrictions are the two top factors in determining where to travel this season.
With many trips spurred by visits to friends and family, 42% will head to cities for the holidays. Beaches (22%) and the great outdoors (16%) are other top travel destinations which offer the ability to unwind and avoid crowds.
Travelers under 55 years old are 4.5 times more likely to travel with children, and the vaccination status of children will affect their holiday plans. One in 10 Americans under 55 years old cite their unvaccinated children as a reason to stay home, and one in seven cite is as a reason not to stay in paid lodging.
The gift of remote work boosts holiday travel
Ongoing workplace flexibility and remote work continues to provide a boon to the travel sector, with working travelers taking more trips, increasing their budgets and extending their stays.
- While most will completely disconnect, 4 in 10 travelers will work for at least part of their trip this holiday season.
- Working vacationers are taking twice as many trips this holiday season as those planning to disconnect on their getaways.
- Three-quarters of travelers (75%) who plan to work during their trip are adding at least one day to their stay as a result. And, more than half (57%) will add three or more days to their longest leisure trip because they have the ability to work remotely.
- Working vacationers are more than two times as likely to increase the budget for their leisure trips as compared to 2019. Company work from home policies were cited as a key driver of increased trip budgets.
Putting Women’s Empowerment Centre Stage in Tourism’s Recovery
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has launched the ‘Centre Stage’ project, with the support of German Federal Ministry for Economic Development (BMZ), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and UN Women.
Over the course of one year, from November 2021 – November 2022, the project will support the tourism sector in placing women’s empowerment and gender equality at the heart of recovery plans following the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will be piloted in four participating Member States in collaboration with the National Tourism Administrations of Jordan (MOTA), Costa Rica (ICT), the Dominican Republic (MITUR) and Mexico (SECTUR).
The impact of COVID-19 on women in tourism
Women make up more than half of the tourism workforce at a global level (54%), according to the Global Report on Women in Tourism, Second Edition. However, women are often concentrated in low-skilled or informal work and have fewer opportunities for education and career development. As a result, women in the sector have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with less access to social protections and a reduced capacity to absorb the economic shock caused by the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the tourism sector has historically provided women with opportunities for empowerment, offering many a livelihood and source of autonomy. For this reason, UNWTO has identified the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to address the gender inequality in the sector.
Concrete measures towards gender equality
Under the ‘Centre Stage’ project, the participating National Tourism Administrations and tourism businesses will implement a one-year action plan containing a series of concrete measures designed to increase opportunities for women’s empowerment. They will be supported by local NGOs, professional organizations and be accompanied by UNWTO through a series of virtual and in-person training opportunities.
The measures included in the Action Plans span the 6 areas of work considered key for gender equality and women’s empowerment in tourism: Employment; Entrepreneurship; Education and training; Leadership, policy and decision making; Community and civil society; Measurement for better policies. The measures have been targeted to the needs identified in the four pilot countries and look to address the specific challenges women face in each.
A total of 10 tourism businesses and 4 NGOs/community organizations will join the participating National Tourism Administrations to implement the measures. UNWTO recently organized two informative webinars for participants from Jordan as well as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
The activities of ‘Centre Stage’ will get underway in November 2021 and include training sessions with a gender focus, personalized guidance aiming to improve working conditions for women in the sector and producing data on the effects of the pandemic on female employment in tourism.
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