Tourism during and after the coronavirus: What’s next for the industry?
The tourism sector seems to be among the hardest hit during this pandemic. According to the World Tourism Organization, 100% of global destinations (as of late April) impose travel restrictions. Hotels around the world are closed or operate with much fewer bookings, restaurants are empty or closed, people aren’t allowed to visit beaches, public squares and historical sites. And all this happens while the world population is worried about their health, about how they are going to make a living, and, simply put, when this nightmare is going to end.
But it IS going to end, right? This is what epidemics do, they flare up and fizzle out, sometimes in waves, two or three times. The tourism sector is going to have to face a new reality, a new normal, both during the lulls of the coronavirus and after the pandemic. Right now most countries have closed borders and implemented lockdown measures of various degrees. Travel seems unthinkable, but the numbers are improving even in the countries that were hardest hit by the virus and soon travel will resume. There are certain questions that need to be asked, however, and they don’t have easy answers:
1) Will people be willing to travel?
2) Can popular destinations ensure both the tourists’ and their local population’s health and safety?
3) Can countries coordinate in ways that will help the tourism sector substantially?
The difficult answer to all three questions is the same: ‘Yes, as long as there is a plan.’ We have already seen countries preparing for the next day. In Europe, Greece, Germany, Austria and others have a road map on how to proceed, even on when to open their borders and start accepting tourists. Even China is about to reopen the Forbidden City. Slowly, gradually, things will return to some kind of normalcy, even though there is always the threat of a new wave of the pandemic. Mass tourism will probably not come back this summer, but there are sectors that can start recovering first.
Luxury travel seems to be among the first to start picking up again. It is easier for luxury resorts to help their guests practice social distancing. Those in isolated locations around the globe are probably going to be highly sought after, since there won’t be many interactions with their local population, thus protecting both the guests and the local population. Another thing to note is that while international travel will still be facing difficulties in the months to come, domestic travel seems easier to resume. Next in line will be international travel, but only within a certain distance. For example, people from the Mediterranean will stick to their very inviting sea. Israel, Cyprus and Greece are already making plans to create a safe zone in the Eastern Mediterranean with common actions. Some compromises will have to be made of course and hoteliers around the globe are already considering options such as consolidating bookings, more robust package deals and others.