A year has gone by and the world has not recovered from the effects of the pandemic. Vaccination campaigns across the globe are underway and it is all trickling down, little by little, the elderly and the most vulnerable receiving the shots, but it’s a process that takes time. Some questions linger in the air, such as how effective the protection against the South African variant will be, and for how long. In the meantime, several businesses have had to adapt to the new way of living, reshaping their operations to telework, virtual concerts and conferences, home delivery, and so on. Others have not been able to resist the shock and have since folded.
Among all industries, the travel and tourism sector suffered a serious blow. Restrictions imposed on international travel have caused a dramatic drop in the number of tourist arrivals. Reports have shown that the accumulated losses in the billions of euros. Many jobs have been lost, others remain at risk. And what about sustainability? Is there room to talk about restarting businesses while a virus continues to mutate as we speak? It’s not the economy at the cost of public health, it’s both, said recently Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. How will society as a whole emerge from this period of uncertainty that has shaken not only our feeling of safety but our way of interacting with others? The remaining nine months of 2021 will tell.
Gloria Guevara has been advocate for a healthy and safe recovery of global tourism. She began her professional career in 1989 at NCR Corporation working in the Latin America, Middle East, and Africa regions. Since 1995 she has worked for the travel industry, starting at the Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Holdings, and was later CEO of JV Sabre Mexico reporting to a board of directors from Aeromexico, Mexicana, and Sabre. She has been Special Advisor on Government Affairs to Harvard University, and part of the Future for Travel, Tourism and Aviation Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum (WEF). She joined the World Travel & Tourism Council in August 2017.
With the summer season of 2021 only a couple of months away, Gloria Guevara speaks with Travel Tomorrow about the way the tourism industry has responded to the pandemic, the future of the digital health pass, the lessons that can be learned from the pandemic, sustainability, and more.
The past 12 months have been extremely challenging for the travel & tourism industry. In concrete terms, how has WTTC helped its members navigate these turbulent times?
WTTC has been at the forefront in leading the private sector in the efforts to rebuild global consumer confidence and encourage the return of safe travels. WTTC launched the world’s first ever global safety and hygiene stamp towards the beginning of the pandemic and it has seen great success since. The stamp was developed to help restore confidence in travellers and aims to revive the global Travel & Tourism sector which has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We’ve also been working closely with governments around the world and calling for international coordination to find our way through the pandemic. Additionally, at the request of Saudi Arabia, WTTC presented its plan to restart international travel and recover 100 million jobs at the G20 Tourism Ministerial meeting last year.
The WTTC’s annual Economic Impact Report (EIR) revealed a loss of almost US$4.5 trillion within the travel & tourism industry. Could you guide us through the report’s highlight? What did you see as its most worrying signs? What was hopeful?
The Economic Impact Report revealed the full devastating impact Covid-19 had on the global Travel & Tourism sector last year, revealing a massive loss of almost US$4.5 trillion.
It also showed that the sector’s contribution to GDP dropped a staggering 49.1%, this compared to the overall global economy which dropped by just 3.7% last year. These losses were felt across the entire ecosystem of Travel & Tourism, with SMEs, which make up 80% of all businesses in the sector, particularly affected. Furthermore, as one of the world’s most diverse sectors, the impact on women, youth and minorities was significant.
It is crucial to remember that the threat of job loss still persists as many of these jobs are currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours, which without a full recovery of Travel & Tourism could be lost. With vaccine rollouts continuing around the globe, we believe we are finally coming to the light at the end of the tunnel, although we are clear vaccines should not be a pre-requirement to travel.
Did the ‘Safe & Clean’ stamp work as expected? What were the main results?
Absolutely. The ‘Safe Travels’ stamp goal is to harmonise protocols around the world, ensure that protocols maximise the safety of travellers and staff alike but also enable business continuity, regardless of the size of the business. In that context, we think it will be key to restoring the confidence of travellers and ultimately the recovery of destinations. It currently is being used by more than 250 destinations all across the globe, on every continent. As the global vaccine rollout picks up pace and with the restrictions expected to be relaxed over time, we believe the stamp will prove a key component of destination recovery and restoring consumer confidence.
Many travel & tourism businesses are on the brink of collapse. Is there room for talk of sustainability? Can a restart of tourism and sustainability coexist? How?
Our Future of Travel report showed that consumers care about sustainability more than ever before. The pandemic has shown us what great impacts we have on our environment, and people are beginning to pay attention. The restart of tourism must coexist with sustainability if it wants to continue to grow and thrive. Ultimately, sustainability will enable the long-term competitiveness of the sector. As we emerge from this crisis, we should look for the opportunities to become even more inclusive and sustainable.
What lessons can we, as a society, learn from this pandemic to improve the way we live and travel for future generations?
I think that we’ve learned how important it is to take care of our physical and mental health, and how fragile it is. With widespread isolation for over a year now, I think that people have a newfound appreciation for their relationships and the lives we had before Covid.
People have got a newfound appreciate for travel, discovery, and nature. And so far, we are seeing an increased desire for the great outdoors and adventure. In tandem with Covid-19, we saw widespread societal movements that have happened during this time and it shows that inclusion and diversity are critical and highlights the importance of tolerance and understanding. We want to make sure that Travel & Tourism is accessible to all.
Several countries are seriously considering to tailor their tourism offer to include “work-ation” packages? Is this something that will appear more and more? What are your thoughts on this new way of working while traveling?
There has undoubtably been a shift in the workplace with so many people working from home. In the future, with potentially more opportunities to work remotely, at least part time, there could definitely be opportunities for people to spend longer time in foreign countries, working from there, and discovering the world at the same time. Obviously we can’t predict the future, but we think that work-ation packages will appear more and more. We are already seeing Dubai put in place policies to welcome remote workers.
Ultimately, we believe that as long as people are productive and happy, and able to continue growing both professional and personally; having more and different types of ways of working will help cater to different types of people. It will however be key for governmental policies to support this shift.
Some economists have stated that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a business going bankrupt. Resources will be re-allocated to where society needs it. Should we see the fact that some businesses are closing down as a “normal” economics process? What is your position on this?
This is not just about businesses and economies, it’s about people’s livelihoods. 80% of our sector is SMEs – which fuel innovation. Travel & Tourism is a major global employer and millions of people around the world rely on a thriving sector and have been suffering from the effects of the pandemic. It is also one of the most diverse sectors, made up of 54% women, and spans the entire globe, reaching parts of the world where other types of jobs are not as common.
Will vaccination help us return to a “safe” mode of traveling? Or will we nonetheless have to accept a level of risk in our lives from now on?
For several months now, WTTC has been calling for the introduction of a comprehensive testing regime before departure. Testing for non-vaccinated travellers, along with mandatory mask wearing and enhanced health and hygiene protocols, would allow the safe resumption on international travel, avoid the risk of transmission, save jobs and help fill the gap in the global economy, which has been devastated by the pandemic. We cannot rely on vaccination alone to reopen travel, and we must learn to live with the virus and adapt to the new normal.
In late March, EU Commission Thierry Breton stated that the EU health digital pass should be ready by June 15th. Its implementation could restore freer movement within the Block. A lot of international organizations have stressed the need for a health pass that is valid world-wide, which would require interoperability across different countries. Is this feasible? What would be the way to accomplish this?
WTTC does not support the introduction of vaccine passports, but rather does support digital health passes that will proof that a passenger is safe to travel. There has been a lot of confusion between a health passport and a health pass: health passports include historic health records from a traveller – WTTC does not believe this is necessary. However, in the case of Covid-19 we are in favour of digital health passes, which will help demonstrate if a person has been vaccinated or include a negative test result that would be valid for a maximum of 3 days.
However, vaccines should not be a pre-requisite for international travel and we should not discriminate against those who wish to travel but have not been vaccinated. We know it will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, particularly those in less advanced countries, or in different age groups.