UNWTO calls for stronger coordination to restart tourism

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Photo: Philip GEBU

…what we must do to speed up the process

On March 31st 2021, the UNWTO through its barometer index indicated that tourist arrivals were down by 87% in January 2021 thus leading the UNWTO to call for Stronger Coordination to restart tourism.

This downturn has never been experienced before. With many economies so dependent on tourism income, days ahead look bleak. Many developed economies depend on tourist expenditures to help raise funds, create employment and receive the needed taxes from those working within the tourism industry and beyond.

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism continues to be felt into 2021.

The outlook for the rest of the year remain cautious as the United Nation World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) continues to call for stronger coordination on travel protocols between countries to ensure the safe restart of tourism and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector. Following a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered further setbacks in the beginning of the year as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks. The UNWTO Barometer further indicates that, all world regions continued to experience large drops in tourist arrivals in the first month of the year.

Mandatory testing, quarantines, and in some cases the complete closure of borders, have all hindered the resumption of international travel. In addition, the speed and distribution of the vaccination roll-out have been slower than expected, further delaying the restart of tourism .

All global regions hit hard Asia and the Pacific (-96%), the region which continues to have the highest level of travel restrictions in place, recorded the largest decrease in international arrivals in January. Europe and Africa both saw a decline of 85% in arrivals, while the Middle East recorded a drop of 84%. International arrivals in the Americas decreased by 79% in January, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses are depending on it. Improved coordination between countries and harmonized travel and health protocols are essential to restore confidence in tourism and allow international travel to resume safely ahead of the peak summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

Outlook for 2021

With 32% of all global destinations completely closed to international tourists at the beginning of February, UNWTO anticipates a challenging first few months of 2021 for global tourism. Based on current trends, UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to be down about 85% in the first quarter of 2021 over the same period of 2019. This would represent a loss of some 260 million international arrivals when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Looking ahead, UNWTO has outlined two scenarios for 2021, which consider a possible rebound in international travel in the second half of the year.

These are based on a number of factors, most notably a major lifting of travel restrictions, the success of vaccination programmes or the introduction of harmonized protocols such as the Digital Green Certificate planned by the European Commission. The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 65% increase in international arrivals for the year 2021 compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 30% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below the levels of 2019. We in Ghana can attest to the successes of the year 2019. It’s a year that will linger long into the minds of Ghanaians.

Will the vaccines help speed up the restart?

Travel vaccines are vaccines travelers receive before they visit certain regions or countries. These vaccines are administered to protect travelers from certain infectious diseases and also to prevent the international spread of an infectious disease to a region or country with a much lower prevalence of the disease. The rise in global travel, rapid technological advances, and the increasing incidence of life-threatening infectious diseases are the key drivers of the travel vaccine market. Just because there’s a vaccine doesn’t mean airports will get rid of social distancing policies or hotels will scale back on cleaning efforts. In the aviation world, John Grant, senior analyst with OAG, said, “Those temperature checks and deeper cleaning of aircrafts are here for some time.” Meanwhile, Andre Philippe Gerondeau, chief operating officer of Meliá Hotels International, told T+L that Meliá’s cleaning and safety program, which includes “stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols, touchless check-in and in-room experiences, adapted F&B formats and procedures, and of course, temperature checks and hygienic kits, will remain in application in the foreseeable future.”

When it comes to personal safety, Kenyon says the vaccine will offer an added level of protection, but isn’t foolproof. “It’s not perfect coverage — it reduces risk dramatically, but does not remove risk,” he said. “At some point, the expectation is that the pandemic will start to recede and we will gradually move to a new normal, but I think many anticipate — though it may be not a requirement — continuing to wear a mask in a high-risk setting like an airplane.”

In 2019 over 2.43 billion doses of various vaccines were procured to more than 100 countries to reach mostly under-five children. However, the decline in available flights, widespread lockdowns, and dramatic hike in prices of the vaccines have impeded the supply and shipment plans. These, in turn, led to a massive drop in revenues for many drug manufacturing companies, inducing a vicious cycle of a continuous supply shortage. The vaccine makers cite cash flow challenges, impending expiration of vaccines pending shipments, and production challenges for the coming year as short-term problems that may impede the growth of the industry.

The global travel vaccine market was worth $5.2 billion in 2019, with a projected growth rate of 8.7% from 2020 to 2027. Although industry players still expect moderate growth in the market size in the forecast period, the reverberations from the coronavirus pandemic may preclude these projections.

With the shortages of vaccines and a lack of an African centered vaccine, the future looks bleak for Ghana and Africa because any rebound is based on building the needed confidence in foreign travellers who may wish to embark on travel to Ghana. If they still feel the population in  the  receiving destination has not been duly vaccinated and protected, travel to our country may delay further and with the holiday and leisure travel constituting the largest markets, we can be sure that travellers will opt for safer and even cheaper destinations than Ghana. This will further compound the unemployment situation and more tourism related businesses will suffer and the impact will be felt even in the financial sector and the national economy as a whole.

What we need to do.

Government has done its part by importing the vaccines. Though there are shortages issues, the GHS is assuring us that there will be enough supplies soon. We need to ensure international tourists feel the impact made in vaccinating the population and ensuring the protocols are continuously being observed thereby making the country a safe destination in the minds of these international tourists when it comes to COVID-19.

We must as a matter of urgency develop our own African centered vaccines as part of the long-term solution to this and future pandemics. A continuous dependence on the West and now China for these vaccines will not be a sustainable plan. As early as possible, the AU must make this a top priority, and reecho the words of DR. Kwame Nkrumah; the black man is capable to run its own affairs and the meaning of this statement is even more meaningful now than ever. A lack of this African centered vaccine and a continued dependence on the West will extend the recovery period in Ghana and African and we can be assured that international arrivals will remain low and plummet event further.

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at www.forealdestinations.com or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visist our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations.

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