Touristy hotspots give cold comfort due to virus - GulfToday

Touristy hotspots give cold comfort due to virus

Coronavirus Tourism

Empty chairs are seen on a beach, which is usually full of tourists, amid fears of coronavirus in Pattaya, Thailand. Reuters

If there is one sector that has taken a body blow from the coronavirus pandemic, it is the global travel and tourism industry.

This sector is on course to lose 174 million jobs this year if current restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus remain in place.

While alarming, the projection from the World Travel & Tourism Council was lower than previously expected, largely because of a strong recovery in domestic travel in China and rebounds in other countries. In June, the council warned that there could be 197 million job losses worldwide in a sector that many nations are hugely reliant on economically.

Those looking forward to visiting some exotic destinations were visibly upset by change in plans, booking and flight cancellations. Restrictions on travel imposed when the pandemic erupted this year effectively banned flights from abroad and closed down the hospitality sectors in many countries.

China, where COVID-19 first emerged, has since managed to contain the virus better than most nations and has reopened large parts of its economy, helped in part by widespread virus testing at airports alongside health and hygiene protocol.

The quarantine rules have turned out to be a major headache for many tourists, who are unwilling to suffer such periods of isolation. This has led to a downturn in the number of travellers.

Who wants to travel all the way to their home country – only to be separated from their loved ones? The separation may be for a few days, but could look like eternity.

There are fears that the resurgence of the virus, particularly in Europe, will further hit the sector. The World Travel & Tourism Council said prolonged travel restrictions could eliminate $4.7 trillion in the sector’s contribution to global GDP this year, a 53% reduction from 2019.

“The sector’s recovery will be delayed even further, with more jobs lost, unless quarantines are replaced with rapid, cost-effective testing at airports on departure, and air corridors,” WTTC President and CEO Gloria Guevara said.

“The longer we wait, the more the ailing travel and tourism sector faces total collapse,” she added.

In a bid to survive, airlines are desperately trying to convince a wary public that measures like mandatory face masks and hospital-grade air filters make sitting in a plane safer than many other indoor settings during the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be working.

Surveys indicate that instead of growing comfortable with air travel, more people are becoming sceptical about it. In the United States, airline bookings have stalled after slowly rising — a reaction to a new surge of reported virus infections.

Globally, air travel is down more than 85 per cent from a year ago.

The implications for the airline industry are grave. Several leading carriers already have filed for bankruptcy protection, and if the hoped-for recovery is delayed much longer, the list will grow.

The four largest US airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April till June. Their CEOs say they will survive, but they have lowered their expectations for a rebound.

When Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,000 people in June about their comfort with various activities during the pandemic, 70 per cent said flying was very or somewhat unsafe. They rated going to a hospital emergency room or standing in line to vote as safer.

Air traffic at Europe’s more than 500 airports has tumbled, down 94 per cent in June compared with the same month last year. There were about 4 million passengers, compared with 217 million a year earlier.

Travel ticked up when more than two dozen European countries opened borders to one another in early July, but virus cases are rising in several countries, leading to reimposed restrictions.

It remains to be seen how long the scenario will remain bleak. Going by current trends however, it doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of improvement in the near future.

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