Coronavirus and its impact on travel and tourism

The coronavirus is a crisis for many industries including the travel and tourism industry. The tourism industry has always been resilient – recovering from the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud, the Boxing Day tsunami and multiple terror attacks – but the coronavirus and its impact on travel and tourism is something bigger, something more wide-sweeping and something unknown.

Prior to the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry was very much in the media but for mainly the wrong reasons. Tourism’s continuous growth brought immense challenges and undermined its future success as the tourism model depended on more visitors each year to survive leading to overtourism in both domestic and international travel. Also, we are all, by now, conscious of the role flying plays in producing the carbon emissions that drive climate change.

Yet, doing away with tourism undermines the livelihood for those worldwide that are supported financially, culturally and environmentally through their involvement in the tourism industry. After all, as UNTWOs’s (World Tourism Organisation) secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism is a people’s sector. 1 in 10 people in the world are directly or indirectly employed by tourism.’’

What I would like to see come out of the pandemic is a recalibration in the travel and tourism sector.

I want to see more focus on green technologies in commercial airlines.  And, as highlighted by the company Responsible Travel,  I would like to see an increase in the Air Passenger Duty (APD) particularly for domestic flights and travel in any class other than basic economy. But, decarbonising travel is about more than tackling aviation.  And certainly has to be more than just paying a carbon emissions tax – offsetting your emission by paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa does not cut it. We also need to consider how we behave once on the ground in our chosen destination. Once we’ve made the decision to take a flight we should make the journey count.

I hope that we become more conscious or aware travellers – whether that is on a one-week sun bed holiday in Spain or a three-week trek through the Amazon or even a cruise or a ski holiday. We need to stop the one-upping epidemic and not be so critical of the type or style of the experience but more focused on the impact it has on the local community, culture and environment. It is possible to have a responsible sun-bed holiday where you stay at a small hotel complex that recycles its grey water, uses solar energy, employs people from the local community, with a kitchen that produces meals from produce grown in their own garden.

I want to see the bucket list being ditched. I want to see travel and tourism being used to break down the typical stereotypes, the preconceived ideas and the popular misconceptions of the countries and cultures we visit. In an ideal world, I would want to remove highlights, must-see sights and peak season. I want to remove exploitative tourism and staged or contrived experiences. I want to see instead a travel and tourism industry with a greater visitor dispersal over an extended period of time – thereby helping to create ‘greater inclusivity among underserved residents in both urban and non-urban environments.’ (Greg Oates from SkiftX Brand Strategy Group).

I want to see the travel and tourism industry taking responsibility to ensure that tourism focuses on its environmental impact as well as sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

But those thoughts are for the future. Currently, all we can do is stay home and wait. The travel and tourism industry is seeing a free-falling demand. Also, with the economic impact of COVID-19, it’s anyone’s guess when that may change.

Yes, we can use hashtags such as #neverstopdreaming and #watchnowexperiencelater but it could also be said that it is borderline irresponsible to promote tourism at such a time. We also understand that discussions about holiday plans are taking a back seat when there is genuine concern for loved ones. Yes, we can send out emails giving our customers reassurance and hope that things will eventually return to normal or newsletters encouraging them to think about future travel plans. But it doesn’t stop it from being heartbreaking.

No-one knows what is going to come out of this situation. But, behind each small independent travel and tourism business is hours of hard work, dedication, sleepless nights, angst, worry and stress but also a belief in something bigger. Most, including EL, exist on the thinnest of margins and a high percentage will not have the finances to survive and that makes me sad.

After all, the travel and tourism sector is more than just Tripadvisor reviews (or as I saw brilliantly quoted recently, shitadvisor). Travel when done right is a celebration of culture and people and landscapes. It connects us to each other and creates memories and connections that last a lifetime.

So when you see a small business asking for support, consider it. Whether that be buy purchasing vouchers to travel at another, better time. Or, making a donation or just giving a message of support.

I do believe EL will be OK because of the strength that comes from our community. As a company, we are trying to remain hopeful and strong. It is clear that we will all be affected by the impact of the coronavirus over the next few months. It is an anxious time for everyone but now is a time for community and togetherness and looking out for those more vulnerable than ourselves. With this in mind, we are also trying to support our extended Mongolian team who are obviously concerned about the potential impact on their livelihoods as we all weather the storm. Like all storms it will pass but until it does we all in the wider travel and tourism industry appreciate your support, flexibility and understanding.

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