Speaking at a webinar organised by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), Gloria Guevara, CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) stated “this will be a strong summer for travel to Europe – including inbound travel.”
1. Increased mobility
Guevara called on governments to move in a coordinated way to enable “mobility” by consistent testing and documentation requirements. She explained that one method would be to focus on the “individual risk assessment” of destinations rather than institute bans based on national risk assessment, which is effectively “painting entire countries with the same brush.” Looking ahead, the ideal approach would be for private companies and governments to be transparent, focus on said individual risk assessment, consider methods to remove quarantines and work towards a more sustainable and inclusive future, Guevara explained.
2. Exit strategies
Guevara highlighted that countries should have an exit strategy for relaunching travel, just as the U.K. has now done by setting May 17th as a tentative date for opening the country’s borders, depending of course on the pandemic situation at that time. If other countries ease or remove restrictions, this should open the way for Europe’s recovery by summer. She added that, “The policies of the U.S. government will be critical in this”.
3. Learning to live with the virus
Guevara explained that the travel and tourism industry will have to “co-exist with the virus” because “it isn’t going anywhere”. “We have to be smart, use technology and work together to implement solutions that allow for mobility” she said. She added that research shows that the travel industry in any destination takes the longest to recover from political instability, with outbreaks of diseases taking the second-longest time for recovery.
4. The WTTC’s plan
Guevara said that the goal of WTTC’s plan is to have a “V-shaped” rapid recovery, just like after the financial crisis of 2008-9, rather than the slower “U-shaped” recovery which came after 9-11 and took several years. She said that in order for this to happen, the following are necessary:
- Coordination: the need for countries to work together because “travel is not isolated.”
- A focus on individual risk assessment rather than national risk assessment. “We can’t base decisions on entire countries,” she said.
- Reinforcing health and safety protocols like mask-wearing and vaccinations. Guevara described vaccinations as “a game changer,” but not enough.
- Support for the travel and tourism sector, including protection for workers and the need for an “exit strategy” – a plan to re-launch travel.
Guevara stated that the travel and tourism industry lost 174 million jobs globally in the pandemic and that WTTC has introduced a plan to recover 100 million of those jobs. She said that leaders at the last G20 summit of major countries focused for the first time on the private travel and tourism sector.
5. Health passes and passports
Guevara also stated that another essential in the future is some kind of consistency among health passes. However she differentiated between health passports, which include extensive personal health history and present issues of privacy, and health passes, which only contain information relevant to a specific trip, such as vaccines or testing. The WTTC does not support a requirement for health passports. Guevara said there are many good health passes and apps available and that although no one of them would become universal, they should work with each other. She added that, at some point, governments should endorse specific health passes to facilitate travel, and that countries should consider options like “pool testing”, for example, just testing one person in a family of four.
6. Managing risk
Guevara stated that “It will be impossible to guarantee zero risk,”, continuing “but you can manage risk by informing the traveler.” For now for instance, she said, vaccinated travellers might still need to be tested because they might carry the virus, however in the future she hopes that is not the case, adding that only those who actually test positive should need to quarantine.
Stating that Australia has done well in controlling COVID-19 by closing its borders, Guevara however said that it’s not an acceptable option for many other countries. “You cannot stay closed for too long a time,” she said, “because then reopening will take longer and be more painful.” She said the path forward should involve vaccinations, especially for seniors and the vulnerable; encouraging international mobility through testing and contract tracing, and continuing with health protocols as long as it is necessary. Digital solutions will enable much of this, she said, as is the case with the increasing use of biometrics for security.