An infeasible initiative

Wednesday, 2020-09-16 17:12:49
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People wearing protective face masks walk at the Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris as France reinforces mask-wearing as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, August 9, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – As one of the industries most heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, global tourism growth is forecast to fall by 57% this year. In order to revive the “smokeless industry”, many countries have come up with their own direction and the concept of the “travel bubble”has been initiated to establish travel spaces between two or more countries that are recording low local COVID-19 infections.

The tourism industry is considered an important industry which generates stable income, but due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, in the first five months of 2020, the number of international tourists has decreased by more than 50%, causing damage estimated at US$320 billion and directly impacting about 120 million jobs.

The imposition of border controls has made the demand for overseas tourism limited perhaps until 2024. This reflects the economic impact of the epidemic and the lingering negative sentiment on the international tourism industry, including leisure and business travel.

Although all regions across the world have witnessed a sharp decline in the number of visitors, destinations in North America are forecast to have the largest drop (70%), followed by Asia Pacific (57%) and Northeast Asia in third.

The economic loss to the smokeless industry is severe. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) forecaststhat the pandemic could cost the tourism industry in Latin America nearly US$230 billion.

In Europe, meanwhile, cross-border tourism might fall by about 56%, despite efforts to reopen borders and promote tourism in several countries. The Italian tourism industry has lost EUR100 billion, or more than 6% of its GDP at the end of last year. Although Italy has loosenedrestrictions since May, the number of visitors to the “boot-shaped country” has not been able to recover.

In Asia, the tourism revenue of the Republic of Korea in the second quarter of 2020 only reached US$1.19 billion, its lowest in 17 years, down 78.6% over the same period last year. The number of visitors to Japan in July decreased by 99.9% compared to the same period last year due to an entry ban for citizens from more than 140 countries and territories.

Many “tourist havens” have gone through a different season in the absence of international tourists and served a majority of domestic tourists instead. The tourism industry of South Africa was in a state of shock, as in June, the total income from the tourist accommodation sector fell 95.3% compared to the same period last year, the biggest decline ever. South Africa therefore is suffering heavy economic damage because international visitors often bring in about US$6.87 billion in annual revenue. Meanwhile, luxurious resorts in France which used to be considered “magnets” for international tourists are now crowed with domestic tourists because of domestic tourism stimulus policies.

Although many countries are beginning to reopen national borders, there are still many difficulties in balancing disease control with restoring tourism. To reduce economic damage, the concept of “travel bubbles” was initiated with the idea of opening borders between countries or territories, in which citizens of these countries or territories will be allowed to travel with the minimum quarantine period if coming from an area where the epidemic has been controlled.

However, this idea has shattered due to outbreaks of the disease in many countries. Europe’s first “travel bubble”, set up in May by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has ended after Latvia’s recent announcement of a 14-day mandatory quarantine provision applied to all individuals from Estonia to prevent the risk of imported COVID-19 cases.

The epidemic will also become complicated again at the end of the summer in the European Union (EU) countries, affecting the establishment a common travel space among some EU countries.

Senior tourism officials at the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) recently convened the first Destination Mekong Summit via video conference to discuss ways to restore tourism during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Thailand initiated a “green travel bubble” concept on a bilateral or trilateral basis during the meeting, and if successful, it could be extended to a multilateral level. However, in fact, Thailand stopped this plan in August, when the number of infections per day increased in many Asian countries.

As one of the important economic sectors, providing livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world, sustainable tourism development is the goal being aimed at in order to bring the smokeless industry out of this crisis. However, tourism development still has to go hand in hand with anti-epidemic work to ensure that public health will not have to “pay the price”, in the context of the pandemic continuing to develop in a complicated way.