Rising to the Challenges of this Unprecedented Crisis

COVID-19 has literally shattered the very foundation of the Travel and Tourism industry by reducing to nil our freedom of movement and of mingling. For months, the overwhelming majority of the world population has been physically restricted to the four walls of their home. Deserted airports, planes, ships, trains, roads, coaches, hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping centres, museums, beaches, and the list goes on, were shocking and disheartening.

At its peak, complete border closure worldwide stood at a staggering 76% in May 2020 while 21% was partly closed and 3% were opened but with testing/quarantine measures. Year 2020 unequivocally became the annus horribilis on record for international tourism with an astronomical 73% plunge in international tourist arrivals. Indeed, airlines and hoteliers have undoubtedly been the worst hit by this pandemic with abysmal financial losses.

Vaccination is seen a game-changer along with some basic precautionary measures (wearing of masks, frequent clearing of hands, minimum physical distancing and natural aeration) and has provided some solid grounds for optimism. With vaccination picking up and a bumpy learning curve of COVID-19, global travel restrictions are being lifted and eased. The vaccination roll-out has undeniably stimulated consumer confidence and the easing of movement restrictions in most countries. A return to typical pre-pandemic international travel demand patterns will be gradual and experts is tabling on 2023 for the full recovery of the travel and tourism. According to data compiled by the UNWTO, after a year into May 2021, though the global situation has improved, the proportion of countries with borders completely closed was still at 29%. Some 34% destinations showed partial closure, 36% with testing/quarantine as restrictions and only one percent had lifted all COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The road ahead is still long and will be far from being smooth on account to the worsening of the pandemic in some parts of the world as countries are faced with (re)surges in COVID-19 cases and the uncovering of new variants. Some countries have thus reintroduced stricter restrictions on international travel over and above local lockdowns to counter second and third waves of infection. Besides, according to experts, the vaccination roll-out has been slower than expected both in terms of speed and distribution. All these are weighing heavily on the resumption of global travel and tourism.