COVID-19 has done a number on the tourism sector worldwide, but as multiple countries endeavour to wrestle the virus into submission, there is a glimmer of optimism emerging on the horizon. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism is slowly getting back on its feet in a number of regions.
“After several months of unprecedented disruption, the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer reports that the sector is beginning to restart in some areas, most notably in Northern Hemisphere destinations. At the same time, restrictions on travel remain in place in a majority of global destinations, and tourism remains one of the worst affected of all sectors.
“Against this backdrop, UNWTO has reiterated its call for governments and international organizations to support tourism, a lifeline for many millions and a backbone of economies,” detailed the United Nations agency, which is committed to the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.
Closer to home, there has been word about reopening Malaysia’s borders to a few low-risk countries in the near future. News reports suggest that the Malaysian government is in talks with Singapore, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, “green” nations between which travel will be permitted at a point deemed reasonable – although nothing has been set in stone at the time of writing, and this information may change.
However, Malaysians can in the time being indulge in domestic tourism under the RMCO, and are free to visit the many holiday destinations the land offers, such as its stunning nature parks, its diverse districts, and its breath-taking highland resorts. Do bear in mind to adhere to COVID-19 hygiene and social distancing practices when out and about.
The COVID-19 Effect
UNWTO has recently shared some data on how the pandemic has taken a toll on the tourism industry as a whole.
Because of the Easter holidays, April is typically one of the most active times of the year for tourism. However, due to the collective implementation of travel restrictions, a staggering reduction of 97% in international tourist arrivals was recorded. In March, that figure was 55%. The period between January and April showed a decline of 44% in international tourist arrivals, which amounts to some USD195b in tourism receipts lost.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “The sudden and massive fall in tourist numbers threatens jobs and economies. It is vital, therefore, that the restart of tourism is made a priority and managed responsibly, protecting the most vulnerable and with health and safety as a the sector’s number one concern.
“Until tourism’s restart is underway everywhere, UNWTO again calls for strong support for the sector in order to protect jobs and businesses. We therefore welcome the steps undertaken by both the European Union and individual countries including France and Spain to support tourism economically and build the foundations for recovery.”
Over in Asia and the Pacific, the COVID-19 blow was particularly painful. These were the first areas to see the pandemic, and were hit badly between January and April, registering a 51% drop of arrivals. Europe was not far behind with a 44% fall during the same period, while the Middle East (40% decline), the Americas (36% decline) and Africa (35% decline) brought up the rear.
UNWTO has also released projections of tourist arrivals for the rest of the year. The three possible scenarios indicate potential declines of international tourist numbers of between 58% and 78% depending on when travel restrictions are removed.
While there is need for international tourism activities to resume as quickly as possible, public safety must be made a priority.
According to UNWTO, there has been an increase in the number of destinations announcing measures to restart tourism since mid-May. These include enhanced safety and hygiene measures as well as policies to encourage domestic tourism.
“The gradual lifting of restrictions in some countries, together with the creation of travel corridors, the resumption of some international flights and enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, are among the measures being introduced by governments as they look to restart tourism,” the organization pointed out, stressing the importance of responsibility, safety and security as restrictions on travel are lifted. UNWTO also called for credible commitment to support tourism as a pillar for recovery.
It remains to be seen how much of a threat COVID-19 will be in the coming months, but as far as tourism goes, it’s probably time to cautiously dip a toe in the water.