As the world slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, many people’s thoughts have turned to holidays. How many of us feel for a break? But what sort of break?
Months of lockdowns and isolation, not to mention deaths of loved ones and a new-found respect for healthcare workers, have triggered serious reflection on the ways in which the world has been functioning.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tourism sector. A healthy tourism industry is essential for the global economy, culture and environment, but in the past, it has also done harm.
“This pandemic sent a warning that we need to change the way we live, travel and see the world. We have an opportunity to build back greener and opt for low-carbon measures that protect nature and biodiversity while maintaining the economic benefits that the multi-million dollar tourism industry brings to local communities around the world,” said Mark Radka, Chief, Energy and Climate Branch of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The stakes are high. In 2019, the sector accounted for – directly and indirectly – some 330 million jobs worldwide, equivalent to one in 10 jobs globally, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Related sectors such as hospitality, hotels and food service industries, employed an additional 144 million workers in both developed and developing countries. Failure to recover could reduce global GDP by 1.5 to 2.8 per cent.
In some Small Island Developing States, tourism accounts for 30 per cent of export revenues (UNWTO). Small businesses, responsible for 80 per cent of the industry, are particularly vulnerable, as well as women, who make up 54 per cent of the tourism workforce, according to studies by ILO and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Moving to sustainable tourism
UNEP is at the forefront of efforts to mainstream policies which transform the industry and address the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
At a recent online conference, Transforming Tourism for a resilient and sustainable post-COVID world, UNEP experts laid out a six-point plan moving from over tourism to sustainable tourism by building more resilient communities and businesses through innovation, digitalization, circularity, sustainable finance, sustainability and partnerships.
“Financial stimulus and recovery packages for COVID-19 are a once in a lifetime opportunity – not a dollar can be lost or wasted while transforming the tourism sector towards a future which is as ‘pandemic and climate-proof’ as possible,” said Radka.
The pandemic’s impact on tourism has been significant. Dwindling tourist numbers in protected areas have threatened the species and communities that live there. Deforestation and poaching have risen in many parts of the world. COVID-19 also led to an increase in single-use plastic products and packaging by the hotel and tourism industry.
“Reducing the use of plastic items and packaging can actually reduce cross-contamination touch points,” said Helena Rey, Tourism Programme Officer from UNEP. “Through cleaning and sanitization procedures, the tourism industry can bring in re-use models that can increase traceability and reduce the risk of contamination. This would also ensure that tourism reduces the burden on local waste management systems and protects local ecosystems.”
UNEP is raising awareness of these issues through global campaigns and partnerships, including the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and the Clean Seas campaign. These efforts call on citizens, governments, and industry to take action to reduce plastic pollution. In particular, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative enables businesses, governments, and other tourism stakeholders to lead by example in the shift towards greater circularity in the use of plastics.
Transforming value chains
Tourism is responsible for 1/10th of greenhouse emissions worldwide. UNEP is working with its partners to reduce emissions created by hotel operations, food consumption and events. The work is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
The Transforming Tourism Value Chains project focuses on environmental issues like cutting food waste, improving the sourcing of products and services, and improving the efficiency of air conditioners, in four countries in which tourism occupies a major role in the national economy: the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Mauritius and St Lucia.
Jake Kheel, vice president of Grupo Punta Cana, a private sector partner in the Dominican Republic, says this makes good business sense as holidaymakers, particularly the younger generation, want to be assured they are bringing value to the places they visit.
“People want to know their leisure time is not affecting local communities and eco-systems. Handled correctly, tourism can bring great benefits, create jobs, increase revenue for people who need schools and health services. It has to be self-sufficient,” he said.
The pandemic has also advanced digitalisation, innovation and the integration of new technologies into tourism. Virtual journeys, electronic menus, touchless check ins, digital consumption behaviours are on the rise. Since the COVID-19 outbreak this year, the online ticketing rates at scenic sites nationwide in China have risen to around 40% from less than 20% in 2019, signalling a rapid uptake in digitalization.
Vaccine Only Part of the Cure for Resumption of Pacific Travel: World Bank Report
With COVID-19 vaccine distribution now in its early stages, early steps toward the resumption of labour migration in the Pacific region underway, and hopes for an international travel ‘bubble’ between Australia and New Zealand, questions are now arising as to what additional measures will be needed before international tourism returns to the Pacific region. In this context, World Bank analysis, How Could the Pacific Restore International Travel?, has recommended that Pacific Island countries and Papua New Guinea (PNG) take a phased approach to resuming international travel to the region in order to safeguard against COVID-19 outbreaks and ensure a steady economic recovery.
Pacific countries have, so far, managed to largely protect citizens from COVID-19 through international border closures. Yet, the economic impacts of the pandemic in the region have been significant. Recent economic modeling by the World Bank shows that all Pacific economies are estimated to have contracted in 2020– particularly those reliant on tourism. Fiji, for example, is estimated to have seen a reduction in GDP of close to 20% in 2020. While a modest recovery is expected in 2021, output levels are not expected to reach pre-COVID19 levels until 2022 or later.
“We want to assist policy makers in the Pacific and PNG to make informed decisions about the risks, and benefits, of when and how they choose to re-open to international travel,” explained Michel Kerf, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands of the motivation behind producing the report.
“Due to weak health systems, any large COVID-19 outbreaks could have devastating consequences for the region. Recent World Bank surveys show that the pandemic’s economic impacts and closed borders are forcing families to make tough choices, like going without food or withdrawing children from schooling, and these can have harmful consequences for years to come.”
The report proposes that re-opening travel to the Pacific should be done in phases, but it cautions that relaxing strict border policies alone will not immediately deliver economic benefits. The three phases are:
- Phase 1 beginning between January and July 2021: Pre-approved travel for specific groups (more temporary workers, students etc.) Strong testing and quarantine measures would be the foundation for any travel bubble.
- Phase 2 beginning between June 2021 and May 2022: A ‘travel bubble’ with commercial flights for business and tourism. This would require sustained COVID-19 containment, improved testing and tracing, and initial roll-out of vaccinations.
- Phase 3 beginning between October 2021 and October 2022: A ‘new normal’. Longer term general international travel requiring wide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment with vastly improved testing and tracing.
“The ‘triple win’ of labor mobility – for the individual worker, for Australian and New Zealand businesses, and for PNG and Pacific economies – means we highly recommend it be prioritized in phase 1,” said Andrew Blackman, author of the report.
“Tourism is also central to several Pacific economies, with many flow-on effects for domestic supply chains and benefits for both genders. Not many other industries deliver the same economic and social benefits but opening up to tourists represents a big health risk and so must be planned carefully. The World Bank is committed to supporting our partner countries across the region as they determine the best course of action,” continued Mr. Blackman.
The report warns that Pacific governments and their partners will have to invest significantly in testing and tracing capabilities at every phase of re-opening, and each country will have to weigh this financial burden with the potential benefits of resuming international travel. Assuming that wide distribution of the current COVID-19 vaccines will take months, any ‘new-normal’ travel arrangements are unlikely to be in place before late 2021.
Based on this proposed timeline, economic activity across the Pacific could remain depressed for another 9-18 months. To help address this, the World Bank’s second phase of COVID-19 support to the region will focus on helping countries address the economic and social impacts of the pandemic, support businesses, safeguard jobs, and advance the reforms needed to speed recovery towards broad-based and sustainable growth.
CAREC Endorses Long-Term Strategy to Promote Safe, Sustainable, and Inclusive Tourism
Ministers and senior officials from the 11 member countries of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program have endorsed a new long-term strategy to promote safe, sustainable, and inclusive tourism development in the region, and enhance its attractiveness as a competitive tourism destination globally.
The CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030, presented at the 19th CAREC Ministerial Conference held virtually today, was endorsed by ministers and senior officials representing Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan also attended the meeting.
“The CAREC region is home to a wide range of historical and cultural heritage sites; unique gastronomy and local traditions; a rich, unexplored network of cities; and arresting natural endowments that traverse national boundaries,” said Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Shixin Chen, co-chair of the conference. “Through the gradual implementation of regional initiatives, the CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030 will help the region bounce back from COVID-19 and establish itself as a sustainable, safe, and easily accessible tourism destination over the long term.”
In 2019, CAREC countries generated more than 420 million domestic tourists but only received 41 million foreign tourists. With the COVID-19 pandemic severely affecting global tourism in 2020, the CAREC Tourism Strategy 2030 accounts for the shift in travelers’ preference towards closer, safer, and uncrowded destinations while outlining a long-term plan to develop the region as an easily accessible tourism destination that provides visitors with a variety of unique experiences.
The strategy provides a roadmap towards the enhancement of the region’s connectivity through the harmonization of visa requirements and quality standards, simplification of border crossing procedures, and improvement of tourism infrastructure and facilities. It also focuses on tourism skills development while maximizing the use of digital technologies.
It aims to build a common brand, “Visit Silk Road”, through the creation of a CAREC tourism web portal and joint promotional activities for tour operators and other business providers. It seeks to develop unique tourism products and experiences catering to various segments including business, culture, nature and adventure, sun and beach holidays, health and wellness, and domestic weekenders.
“By fostering sustainable tourism growth in rural and urban areas, the new strategy will also help to reduce regional imbalances and empower local communities,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Werner Liepach. “It will promote gender equality by promoting jobs and income opportunities for private sector SMEs and entrepreneurs including women and young people.”
The CAREC Program is a partnership of 11 countries to promote economic growth and sustainable development through regional cooperation. It is supported by development partners including ADB, which serves as the Secretariat for the CAREC Program.
Since 2001, the CAREC Program has financed 208 regional infrastructure and trade projects worth $39.2 billion. Of this, $14.7 billion has been financed by ADB, $15.8 billion by other development partners, and $8.7 billion by CAREC member country governments.
Accessible Tourism Identified as ‘Game Changer’ for Destinations
Ensuring accessibility for tourists with specific access requirements can be a ‘game changer’ for destinations around the world as they look to bounce back from the impacts of the pandemic. A new set of Inclusive Recovery Guides from the World Tourism Organization, produced in partnership with the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT), the ONCE Foundation of Spain and Travability from Australia, makes clear the importance of placing inclusivity at the centre of recovery plans and provides key recommendations for achieving this.
Launched on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide – Socio-Cultural Impacts of COVID-19: Issue I Persons with Disabilities, draws on the expertise of UNWTO’s Ethics Culture and Social Responsibility Department and its partners. While much progress has been made, the publication makes clear that persons with disabilities and seniors encounter barriers preventing them from fully enjoying tourism experiences, even more so during the pandemic. Now, as UNWTO leads the restart of tourism globally, this guide outlines steps that governments, destinations and companies should take to build back better, becoming more inclusive and competitive.
Accessibility as a priority
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism environments and services are often designed without considering the different access requirements that visitors and locals may have. The tourism sector must prioritize accessibility. This can be a real game changer for destinations and businesses, helping them recover from the crisis and grow back in a more inclusive and resilient way.”
Highlighting the potential benefits for more accessible destinations, the publication notes that, by 2050, one in six people worldwide will be aged 65 or over, rising to one in four in Europe and North America. Furthermore, data shows that the average spend of tourists with disabilities in Spain, for example is in excess of 800 euros, compared with just over 600 euros for tourists without disabilities.
Recommendations for inclusive recovery
The recommendations advocating for accessibility during the recovery of tourism insist on six main action areas:
- Assistance in a crisis: Including accessibility during every stage of repatriation, which requires the backing of destinations and disabled peoples’ organizations (DPOs)
- Adaptation of protocols: Follow UNWTO guidance on adapting general health and safety protocols, considering that customers may have different abilities and requirements
- Inclusivity in post-pandemic tourism: Including the effective use of data to guide decisions on accessible tourism planning and adjusting accessibility policies and strategies to reflect post-COVID realities
- Accessibility in business planning: Treating accessibility as a competitive advantage, improving customer service, and the application of harmonized international standards to enhance quality of life for all
- Staff training and inclusion: Extending professional training to better cater for tourists with different abilities, and ensuring equal opportunities in the tourism workforce
- Innovation and digital transformation: Embracing innovation to make travel and tourism safer, smarter and easier for all
The guidelines reflect UNWTO’s ongoing commitment to inclusive tourism, enshrined within The UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, calling on signatories to facilitate tourism for persons with disabilities. This publication is also the first one in a planned series of thematic briefs from UNWTO’s Ethics, Culture and Social Responsibility Department, in its intent to provide guidance to our sector.
UNWTO and partners are asking administrations, destinations and companies, which have successfully incorporated accessibility in their mitigation measures, to share their stories through the questionnaire “Accessible Tourism Champions”, also launched today.
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