Travel bans and the lack of a coordinated response among countries to ensure harmonized protocols and coordinated restrictions are leading to chaos and confusion for travelers — and are two of the main barriers to tourism’s recovery.
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Picture this. You have decided to take your first trip since the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a wave of global lockdowns in March 2020 and an unprecedented decline in tourism. You do your research and choose a resort in The Maldives. The sunny atolls in the Indian Ocean are famed for pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and luxury resorts on private islands.
The Maldives opened its borders to tourism with no restrictions, except a recent negative COVID-19 test, on July 15, 2020, so you know there will no passport or visa problems. When you land at the airport, you are picked up by dedicated transport to your resort. You take periodic COVID-19 tests, and a negative result means you have more access and freedom to the resort’s amenities and activities, and the ability to visit other islands and resorts. As the resorts have established unparalleled safety and hygiene measures – even as they may still slightly vary with each other – you enjoy a very private and a very safe stay in a tropical paradise.
The Maldives is an example of one country that has gone to great lengths to open tourism in a safe and seamless way. However, this is the exception and not the rule.
Most travelers who are venturing forth and finding a sea of chaos and confusion as complex rules and guidelines often overlap or even contradict each other.
For example, a global hotel chain may have companywide COVID-19 cleaning standards and safety guidelines, but these may differ from one brand to another, or from one locality to another, depending on the local situation. A traveler who depends on the reliability of the chain may be met with very different experiences from one hotel to another.
Those who fly face considerable complexity as they try and sort through the various COVID-19 policies and regulations of each airline, airport, and destination.
International travelers can be met with sudden drastic changes, such as travel bans, as Suzanne, a Canadian traveler, recently found out. Suzanne took a trip to Greece from Toronto. She had booked a flight to Albania and was going to travel overland to Greece, but the border suddenly closed. She had to book a second flight, directly to Kefalonia, where she was tested on arrival. To keep complications to a minimum, she stayed on one Greek island only, and deliberately chose a lesser-known one, which was very quiet.
When she was due to fly out of Greece, she found out the first leg of her flight home was cancelled, with no notice. The day before she was due to fly, she had to scramble to buy news tickets – amidst a stressful backdrop of the European Union’s sudden decision to ban Canadian travelers.
Suzanne said that in her experience, the biggest complications around international travel are the cancelled flights and the around which passport holders are allowed entry.
A state of confusion
For the traveler, this state of affairs is complicated and confusing, and it’s doing nothing to help restore faith in tourism or the travel industry.
Today, many travelers research and book travel themselves, with the help of travel blogs, travel review sites, metasearch engines, and OTAs. This makes it more difficult for the average traveler to understand the new rules and guidelines in place because of COVID-19.
Travelers could find that each provider is giving different information with regards to what’s needed in terms of things like passport restrictions and COVID-19 tests, and different recommendations
There are some nations issuing directives, such as India, but they are most often aimed at a single part of the industry – such as airports – and do not address the end-to-end experience of travel.
Massive decline in tourism
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 ushered in a global wave of travel restrictions, there has been a significant drop in international arrivals for the first eight months of 2020.
According to the newest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, “international arrivals plunged 81% in July and 79% in August, traditionally the two busiest months of the year and the peak of the Northern Hemisphere summer season. The drop until August represents 700 million fewer arrivals compared to the same period in 2019 and translates into a loss of US$ 730 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is more than eight times the loss experienced on the back of the 2009 global economic and financial crisis.”
The outlook for recovery is grim with McKinsey suggesting that tourism will not return to 2019 levels until 2024, and a $8.1 trillion USD loss in tourism expenditures. UNWTO’s Panel of Experts foresees a rebound in international tourism in late 2021 and 2022.
In order to restore consumer confidence and help tourism recover, a unified response is needed.
Calling for a unified vision of travel
Travel is experienced by the traveler as continuous and uninterrupted. It is not experienced in pieces or stages, as silos. The industry needs to realize this and respond in kind.
The travel industry needs a unified response, streamlined protocols, and standardization in terms of rules and guidelines. The industry needs to offer travelers a harmonious and simple experience in order to restore confidence.
What the industry needs is a coordinated effort to help tourism recover. The travel industry needs to realize we’re all in this together, and we need to work together. Airlines, airports, tourism boards, DMOs, hotels need to work in sync.
We are all collectively responsible to restart tourism and restore traveler confidence, and we need to work in harmony to achieve it.
Instead of competing with each other for market share, which is how the tourism industry has traditionally operated in the past, we need a new spirit of collaboration, a new era of cooperation, and a new vision of unification.