Coronavirus and Tourism – why the industry WILL recover
On 31st January 2020, the World Health Organization declared China’s coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, only the sixth of its kind. Admittedly, much like many others, initially I didn’t think much of coronavirus. To my knowledge, the first news reports regarding the coronavirus began circulating sometime around Christmas and at the time, despite possessing a full awareness of just how connected the world is, it seemed like a problem very far away.
Now, at the time of writing, it is estimated that globally more than 424,000 people are infected and almost 19,000 people have died as a result of coronavirus. Approximately 20 countries have gone into lockdown. In the UK, we are only allowed outside our homes to shop for essentials or to exercise and apart from key workers many are now working from home. Many have unfortunately lost their jobs as well.
Unsurprisingly, the travel and tourism industry has come to an almost complete halt. The International Air Transportation Association estimates ticket sales will drop by £215bn. Whilst the government has revealed an extensive package to support the economy and society, some are still struggling to benefit from this. Talks of bailing out the UK aviation industry have been mentioned, though the government is thus far reluctant to do so. All of this makes for very grim reading. Undoubtedly, the world has changed as we know it. It is hard to imagine a return to "what was" when all this settles. We will definitely get through this, but we will return to a new reality, a different world.
The travel and tourism industry is remarkably capable of rising from the ashes in the aftermath of a crisis. This industry is arguably one of the most vulnerable and susceptible to crises and disasters, yet remains equally remarkably resilient. Whilst these times are unprecedented and perhaps presenting some of the most complex challenges to date, travel and tourism has recovered from past crises such as SARS and 9/11 exceptionally well.
Indeed, before the coronavirus outbreak, international tourism was considered one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world, representing 10% of global employment, 10% of global GDP, had experienced its 9th consecutive year of growth and had grown faster than world trade for the past four years. 2019 saw the industry celebrate 1.4bn international arrivals, the biggest yet and on target for 1.8bn by 2030. Ironically, before coronavirus, one of the main discussion points in tourism management was the concept of "overtourism" - a combination of too many tourists and poor destination management. Tourism is, particularly in western societies, considered by many to be a human right and we have an innate desire go on holiday and explore the world.
As such, the saying "every cloud has a silver lining" is very applicable to travel and tourism. My hope is that this crisis will put a spotlight on key issues within the industry, such as sustainable, responsible and accessible tourism. I see this as a great opportunity to address such challenges. Seeing videos of wildlife returning to Venice for the first time in a long time is but a poignant reminder that, when this is over, we have a responsibility to manage our behaviour in a sustainable manner that benefits current and future generations. Likewise, this crisis has brought a much-needed focus to the vulnerable within society, a demographic that has also largely been overlooked by the travel and tourism industry. My hope is that the industry will begin to address access issues for the vulnerable accordingly.
Whilst tourism is traditionally slow to recover from crises, given the magnitude of this crisis, I have no doubt that people will be rushing off on their holidays as soon as possible once it is over. And the ripple effects of this will undoubtedly benefit all of us initially. Then, we can return to discussing the impacts of overtourism.