This article was originally published by The Global Governance Project
Author: Zurab Pololikashvili
Private and public sector coordination will be essential for restoring confidence in travel, which will in turn bolster economic growth and people’s livelihoods
For countries and communities at every stage of development, the pandemic has brought home the essential relevance of tourism.
Data from the World Tourism Organization show that international tourist arrivals declined by 73% last year, bringing the number of tourists travelling around the world back to levels last seen 30 years ago. The introduction of travel restrictions and an unprecedented fall in consumer demand and confidence wiped out three decades of near-continuous growth. And the impacts have been felt way beyond the tourism sector itself. In the G7 economies alone, international tourist arrivals fell by 70%, leading to estimated losses of $400 billion in export revenues.
UNWTO estimates over 100 million tourism jobs have been lost or put at risk by the pandemic. The crisis has made clear tourism’s symbiotic relationship with its wider society and indeed with what makes us human.
To thrive, the tourism sector relies on culture, nature and person-to-person interactions. In turn, tourism is an unrivalled pillar for development, investment and sustainable growth, supporting millions of jobs, providing opportunities for young people, women and vulnerable populations, and generating funds for the conservation of wildlife and habitats. Tourism promotes and preserves heritage and fosters solidarity and understanding among peoples. The responsible restart of international travel is, therefore, essential on many levels.
As the United Nations’ specialised agency for tourism, UNWTO has led the sector’s response to an unprecedented crisis. We brought together governments, destinations, the private sector and international organisations with a coordinated plan of action. By speaking with one voice, tourism and its businesses and workers gained unprecedented economic and political support, including from the G7 members.
The restart of tourism must similarly be based on coordination, both between the public and private sectors and between countries. One immediate priority is restoring confidence in international travel. While there is clearly pent-up demand for travel, ongoing uncertainty over restrictions and regulations keeps people at home and business lingering. The development of common risk assessment frameworks as well as coordinated measures are essential to restart travel for the benefit of all. The vaccination roll-out offers opportunities to advance solutions such as the European Union Green Passport, an example of joined-up thinking that could be replicated in other global regions.
Destinations and countries also need to help tourists make informed decisions. UNWTO has partnered with the International Aviation Transport Association, the global body for civil aviation, to provide comprehensive and up-to-date information on the restrictions and requirements of airlines and destinations, building trust and restoring confidence. UNWTO is also finalising a landmark International Code for the Protection of Tourists, again with the aim of restoring trust in travel.
In addition, UNWTO is working to ensure that businesses adapt and survive this crisis long enough to welcome tourists back. The sudden halt of tourism cash flow have required both governments and international organisations take steps to ensure liquidity, support adaptation to new challenges and secure vital financing for enterprises at risk. UNWTO is working closely with the Inter-American Development Bank on harmonised safety protocols and with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support the sector in several priority states. It has also stepped up investment in tourism’s most important resource – people. From expanding online education opportunities to connecting tourism workers with employers through our UNWTO Jobs Factory, we want to give everyone a chance to have a stake in tourism’s future. At the same time, by identifying the sector’s brightest entrepreneurs and start-ups, supporting talent wherever it is found we can guarantee that our work today will have an impact in the future.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
As the world’s biggest economies collectively, the G7 has the opportunity – indeed, it has a responsibility – to lead by example in safely restarting tourism. Given the sector’s proven ability to drive recovery, such support would be an investment that would deliver significant dividends in the months and years ahead. Again, we have been through a year like no other, not just for tourism but for every economic sector and for our societies. But this crisis is also an opportunity to rethink and recalibrate.
The location of this G7 meeting, in the English county of Cornwall, is most fitting. For many years, Cornwall has been a leading tourism destination, which has created jobs and supported businesses. Many are now eagerly waiting for the restart of tourism – their livelihoods depend on it. At the same time, the growth of tourism has brought some challenges, not least its impact on local communities. This makes clear our duty to place responsibility and sustainability at the heart of tourism’s restart and to ensure that, as we do grow back, the benefits are enjoyed widely and fairly.
By Zurab Pololikashvili
Zurab Pololikashvili has been secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization since 1 January 2018. He was previously Georgia’s ambassador to Spain, Andorra, Algeria and Morocco and its permanent representative to the UNWTO up to December 2017. He has also served as Georgia’s minister of economic development and deputy foreign minister, among other posts, and has a background in the private sector in the financial and business sectors.