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Vaccine Only Part of the Cure for Resumption of Pacific Travel: World Bank Report

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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.

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Samoa welcomes international travellers with airport celebrations as borders reopen

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After years of the COVID-19 pandemic throwing international travel into turmoil, Samoa’s beautiful shorelines have once again welcomed international travellers on the first direct flights from American Samoa, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

Straight off the flights, passengers were greeted by the Minister of Tourism, Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster and the Samoa Tourism Authority Board of Directors and CEO, as well as the High Commissioner of Australia HE Emily Luck who was at Faleolo International Airport to welcome the first direct flight from Sydney/Brisbane.

Excitement ensued with a fresh ula offering and welcome by Miss Samoa and the Samoa Tourism team in traditional wear, the Return to Paradise Resort string guitar ensemble, and multiple cultural performances in the arrival hall and concourse by Samoa Airport Authority and Tasi and Alii’s.

Tourism Minister, Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster commented on the reopening saying “The past two years have been a trying time for the world over, but as Samoa reopens its borders, it is our acknowledgement that our internal protection measures are safe for our people and for the yearning travellers who are wanting to visit family and friends, and who are eager to explore our heritage and natural environment,”

“We look forward to hosting all visitors, and showcasing our culture and environment, and pray that we continue to be mindful of the necessary travel health advisories for all of our protection.”

Pre-COVID, Samoa welcomed 181,000 international visitors in 2019. Visitor spend in the same year totalled WST 528 million. 

Newly appointed Samoa Tourism Authority CEO, Pativaine Petaia-Tevita, shared her excitement and optimism for the return of international visitors to Samoan shores.  

“We are very excited to welcome back travellers on the first direct flights since our reopening. Samoa has been waiting for this moment for a long time and it was wonderful and uplifting to see passengers fill the terminal once again.”

“Our reopening is a special milestone which we celebrated in a special way along with the return of international visitors including family and friends.”

In preparation for the reopening, a series of developments and new processes were put in place to ensure Samoa would be travel ready, and that the health and safety of locals and international travellers remained of utmost priority. Samoa’s robust preparations include the achievement of high vaccination rates, training and upskilling for local employees, upgraded travel instructions and bolstered testing capabilities. 

Vaccination rates were pivotal in the decision to reopen, with the most recent data showing almost 93% of Samoa’s eligible population, aged 5 years and over, has been fully vaccinated. 

Big ticket attractions and much-loved natural treasures are primed and ready to receive the influx of travellers over the coming months, including the famous To Sua Ocean Trench, Piula Cave Pool, Afu Aau Waterfalls, Lalomanu Beach, and Samoan Cultural Village. 

For more information on Samoa’s travel guidelines, as well as inspiration on things to do while visiting Samoa, please visit the Samoa Tourism website.

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Sun, sea, sustainability – could your next European holiday be a greener one?

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With the tourism industry on a high bounce following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, many holiday-goers are looking for ways to travel more responsibly and sustainably. But the annual surge of visitors at resorts and destinations can create environmental headaches for people living in the locality.

Following two years of restrictions and with pent-up demand, millions of Europeans are packing suitcases and flocking to airports to jet off for relaxing getaways. And for many people planning a holiday, responsible travel has become a significant consideration.

Europe’s popular outer islands, from the Aegean, via the Balearics to the Canaries, are some of those places most ready to welcome visitors back. The pandemic decimated their visitor numbers by up to 70%, causing a huge knock-on effect for local economies.

But while tourism may be the mainstay for the islands, like most things, it comes at a cost. An influx of expectant visitors puts pressure on the local environment, transport systems and infrastructure, and creates challenges for the local community also.

Sun-kissed

On sun-kissed Madeira, some 1000km off the coast of Portugal, the holiday season is back in full swing as tourists return to enjoy the island’s stunning beaches and spectacular views. But as visitors weave in out of the island’s hotspots in rental cars, clogging up the local roads, tempers begin to fray.    

‘Typically, there are issues of over-crowding, insufficient resources and a lack of integration between tourism and transport,’ explains Funchal-based Claudio Mantero. Mantero is the coordinator of the Civitas DESTINATIONS project, which is attempting to improve links between tourism and transport for island destinations like Madeira.

Through the project, Mantero and team studied the impact of tourism on transport systems in Madeira, Gran Canaria, Malta, Elba, Crete and Limassol. Using smart sensors to monitor how and when visitors move about, their work has helped pinpoint what it might take to move people towards greener transport choices.  

‘The key issue is reducing the numbers of private cars,’ said Mantero. ‘Currently everything is orientated towards hiring cars and driving around islands. We see multiple opportunities to introduce more sustainable forms of transport which can attract tourists and actually make their experience a better one.’

Bike rental

They piloted some new tech-based trials. In Limassol, for instance, they developed an app providing tourists with easy-to-access information on bike rental and walking tours. Meanwhile, on Elba, they set up an online hub gathering all sustainable transport and public travel options in one place.

Lower-tech solutions are also in play. There are new training programmes for hotel staff on guiding tourists to where they can hire and ride bikes. This includes taking advantage of cross-selling opportunities between different transport options, for example, by offering discounts to tourists taking public transport.

Other measures required deeper changes to transport infrastructures, such as new bus routes to rural destinations with clearer information for tourists about where to jump on and off. In Limassol, bike racks were also fitted on buses to allow tourists to combine visits to these rural locations with some active adventure.  

Aboard the e-bus

Hundreds of new electric bikes and a suite of new electric buses for the islands have been purchased and tested as part of the project. This includes the first ever e-bus to arrive in Crete. By demonstrating how efficient and practical they are, the project has helped to unlock new funding for more buses which, in turn, helps to improve air quality.

The main takeaway for Mantero, though, is the importance of improved integration between tourism and transport. He sees an opportunity to embed tourism within sustainable urban mobility plans and to create a blueprint that can be shared beyond the islands.

‘With this project we’ve shown there is a very clear opportunity for greater cooperation between traditional tourism and local transport,’ said Mantero. ‘There’s an appetite among tourists for a greener tourist experience and, through integration, we know we can bring significant benefits for visitors and for residents too,’ he said.

Emblematic issues

A different EU project seeking to shift how we holiday and to improve the sustainability of tourism is SmartCulTour. Working in Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, it encourages tourists to leave the hordes behind and visit lesser-known areas that are not typical tourism hotspots.  

‘The issue in many places is not actually too much tourism, but rather there’s too much concentration in certain areas,’ says project coordinator Dr Bart Neuts, economist and cultural tourism expert from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at KU Leuven in Belgium.

Scenes of cruise ships that until recently were allowed to sail into the heart of old Venice, tourist buses lining the streets of Barcelona or umbrella-led walking groups touring Paris, all trying to tick off the same cultural sights, are emblematic of the issues that certain areas face.

A narrow view of what constitutes cultural heritage dominates people’s travel choices, at the expense of lesser-known attractions.

‘Our main goal is to open up tourism to rural peripheral regions – areas which we know could benefit from greater visitor numbers,’ said Neuts. ‘To do this, we are trying to broaden how people understand cultural heritage as being not just the famous monuments and artefacts located in Europe’s big cities.’

By working with local communities across six ‘living labs’, the SmartCulTour team seeks to support regional tourism by highlighting hidden gems in an area. Such gems might be tangible, such as buildings or intangible, like people.

The team is working with local groups in Rotterdam to co-design cultural tourism products. Enjoying relatively few visitors historically, Rotterdam has experienced rapid growth in recent years, due to the city’s modern urban image. This vibe is something which the living lab hopes to capitalise on.

Fuller flavour

In the area of Huesca, in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, tourism is geared towards skiing with visitors mostly by-passing the castles, abbeys, and wineries on offer. The Huesca living lab is trying to create a more integrated rural tourism product to give visitors a fuller flavour of the region.

And in far-flung Utsjoki in Lapland – the northern-most municipality in Finland – the SmartCulTour project’s local living lab has spotted an opportunity to expand the season beyond summer when visitors arrive to fish for wild salmon. Introducing people to the indigenous Sámi culture in a culturally sustainable way could be a new way forward for tourism in the region.

Neuts is clear that there are sensitivities and trade-offs with all these ideas and emphasises that these projects are community-driven and inspired.

‘We want to help local stakeholders define new and viable tourist products to help put their areas on the map,’ he said. ‘It’s about working together to identify what’s possible and acceptable.’

Whilst it’s now up to local stakeholders to run with the ideas generated and to market new holidays, Neuts thinks there is a clear potential with today’s tourists looking for more experiential travel.

‘We know tourists will continue to visit the big destinations, but there is a growing number also looking for that different type of experience,’ he said.  

If sustainable tourism is supported to grow in locations off the beaten tourist track, it can help these destinations become more economically resilient longer-term. For now though, that process will need both community investment and local political support to develop.  

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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New tourism study shows need to prepare for future headwinds, as sector shows signs of recovery

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The World Economic Forum released today its latest travel and tourism study, revealing that the sector is showing signs of recovery in many parts of the world after being hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan, the United States, Spain, France and Germany are at the top of the list.

The Travel & Tourism Development Index 2021: Rebuilding for a Sustainable and Resilient Future, ranks 117 economies on a range of factors that are crucial to the development, sustainability and resiliency of their travel and tourism industry, which in turn contributes to economic and social development.

“COVID shutdowns have re-emphasized the important contribution travel and tourism makes to many economies around the world,” said Lauren Uppink, Head of Aviation, Travel and Tourism at the World Economic Forum. “As the world emerges from the pandemic, economies must invest in building a strong and resilient environment to deliver the travel and tourism experience and services for many decades to come.”

While overall international tourism and business travel is still below pre-pandemic levels, the sector recovery has been bolstered by greater vaccination rates, return to more open travel, and growing demand for domestic and nature-based tourism. Many businesses and destinations have adapted to these shifting demand dynamics. According the UNWTO, the difference in international tourist arrivals between just January 2021 and January 2022 is greater than arrivals growth in all of 2021.

As the sector slowly recovers from the global health crisis – especially as vaccines become more available and health restrictions lifted – it will be important for the travel and tourism sector to take steps that embed long-term inclusivity, sustainability and resilience as it continues to face evolving challenges and risks.

Despite positive trends, the travel and tourism sector is still facing many hurdles with its recovery. This includes uneven vaccine distribution, capacity constraints, labour shortages, supply chain disruptions and more.

“Government, business and civil society leaders can address barriers to recovery by looking at the different factors that can support the long-term development and resiliency of their respective travel and tourism economies,” added Uppink. “This will require decision-makers to restore consumer confidence and international openness by prioritizing such things as enhanced health and security measures, encouraging inclusive labour practices, improving environmental sustainability and investing in digital technology.”

Travel and Tourism Development Index 2021 results

In this year’s index, Japan takes the top spot followed by the United States, Spain, France and Germany rounding out the top five.

Other than the US, the top-10 scoring economies are high-income economies in Europe or Asia-Pacific. After top-ranking Japan, regional economies Australia and Singapore come in seventh and ninth, respectively. Italy joined the top 10 (up from 12th in 2019) in 2021, while Canada slid from 10th to 13th

Viet Nam experienced the greatest improvement in score (from 60th to 52nd) on the overall index, while Indonesia (44th to 32nd) and Saudi Arabia (43rd to 33rd) had the greatest improvement in rank.

While Europe, Eurasia and Asia-Pacific dominate the 2021 rankings, Europe is the only region to have decreased its average score since 2019, slightly eroding its considerable lead. Sub-Saharan Africa had the greatest improvement in performance, but far more needs to be done for economies in the region to catch up with the global average.

In other regions, Dominican Republic saw the greatest improvement in North and Central America (72nd – 69th) while Uruguay saw the biggest jump in South America (61st to 55th).

The Travel and Tourism Development Index 2021 is a direct evolution of the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index, which has been published biennially for the past 15 years. The change reflects the new index’s enhanced focus on the sector’s overall role in economic and social development and the greater need for stakeholder collaboration and development strategies. Based on an altered framework, methodology and other differences, the 2021 index should not be compared to the one published in 2019. To help address this, the 2019 results were recalculated using the new framework, methodology and indicators; all comparisons in score and rankings throughout the new report are between the 2019 results and the 2021 results of the Travel and Tourism Development Index.

Rebuilding for a sustainable and resilient future

Given the travel and tourism sector’s important role in global economic and social prosperity, investing in the drivers of its development will be crucial in the coming years, according to the publication. As economies look to rebuild their travel and tourism sectors, they should focus on making their travel sectors more inclusive, sustainable and resilient to future risks.

To achieve this, one top enabling factor that should be prioritized is restoring and accelerating international openness and consumer confidence by improving, for example, health and security. This could include more investments into healthcare infrastructure and personnel and greater distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in lower-income economies.

“Efforts to build favourable and inclusive labour practices, improve environmental sustainability and strengthening the management of tourism demand and impact will help economies ensure strong development of their travel destinations,” said Uppink. For example, sustainable environmental policies that can help protect natural resources have become even more vital as consumer preference for sustainable travel options and nature-based travel grows.

Digital technology will also be vital to achieving all of this. New digital tools can be used to manage tourism flows, optimize visitors’ experiences and reduce overcrowding. Addressing issues such as the digital divide, skills gaps and fully including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in digitalization efforts will be critical to fully leveraging digital technology to improve the tourism sector as a whole.

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