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Covid-19’s impact on international tourism

 

  • Covid-19 cripples the global tourism industry
  • The road ahead

 

With around 90% of the world living in countries with travel restrictions, the Covid-19 pandemic has literally brought travel to a standstill. While it is fairly known that the pandemic has bruised many-a-industries, it has etched a scathing impact on global tourism, which in fact accounts for 10% of the global GDP. Given the wide-spread restrictions on travel globally, World Tourism Organization (UN’s specialized agency for tourism (UNWTO)), in its latest evaluation (as of March 30th2020), has suggested a 20-30% decline in international tourist arrivals in comparison to previous year. As per a statement released by the agency, “Taking into account past market trends, this would mean that between five and seven years’ worth of growth will be lost to COVID-19. Putting this into context, UNWTO notes that in 2009, on the back of the global economic crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by 4 per cent, while the SARS outbreak led to a decline of just 0.4% in 2003”. Many estimate the impact of Covid-19 on international tourism to be worse than the 9/11 attack and 2008 crash combined. Besides the immediate effects of the pandemic spread, the uncertainty of it all is also dampening demand for travel. As per WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), it is estimated that Covid-19 is likely to cause US$ 2.1 tn revenue loss and is putting close to 75 mn tourism jobs at immediate risk globally, with c. 10 mn of those in Europe. Some worry of a domino effect with airlines being particularly vulnerable. For example, if they collapse, one could expect a significant impact on business-related tourism along the chain including airports and hotels. Due to this, many economies are facing heat globally - the US travel industry is amongst the worst hit. On similar lines, small and medium enterprises, specifically in developing nations (such as the African nations - Ethiopia and Kenya) are likely to face the brunt who are particularly dependant on international tourism.

So, as the tourism sector as a whole, including travel companies and airlines, face an unprecedented challenge in the face of Covid-19, industry experts are betting on some unprecedented and innovative developments to push the sector to finally recover. First off, travellers would need to feel confident about their safety and health being protected though this will take time and is not going to be nearly enough. In addition, a further upgrade in digital tools thereby assisting in a shift to touchless travel will be key to ensure a seamless travel experience in a new world that will come to be post Covid-19. Televisory has analysed some of these likely developments:

 

  • Touch-free travel

Even with the strictest of hygiene protocols in place, the infection would be prone to spread during check-in, security, immigration formalities, boarding, or even a simple exchange of travel documents or other formalities, subjecting both staff and travellers to the transmission of coronavirus. Perhaps the most immediate change that will likely be put into place is going to be providing travellers with a touch-free experience, right from a touch-down at the airport all the way to a hotel check-in. Automation will be imperative. With biometrics already being widely used, their use will only see an upward trend while hand scanners & finger printing will be phased out. In addition, other technologies already in existence, such as facial recognition and contactless fingerprinting will be employed further in the entire travel chain. Other technologies, such as touchless document scanning, gesture control, voice command control, which are already being tested, will assist in ensuring a touchless experience thereby reducing, if not entirely eliminating, the spread of the infection, in turn making travellers feel safe.

 

  • Digital health passports

Until the time the world sees a vaccine against Covid-19, passengers are likely to deem travel risky. As per a survey by (International Air Transport Association) travellers feel an increased sense of safety with the usage of masks, visible sanitizing, and screening. In order to encourage travel again, travel companies along with airlines are developing digital health passports which would basically be using personal data of flyers (with their consent) such as their underlying health conditions, age, travel history amongst other relevant data points. In fact, very recently VST Enterprises (a Manchester based cybersecurity firm) signed a deal with Circle Pass Enterprises (a digital health company) to develop a digital health passport to assist travel again and return to work amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Also known as ‘Covi-pass’, the two companies are said to work along with governments and the private sector to deploy this technology to 15 countries (incl. India, Italy, France, Portugal, Panama, the US, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, Spain, UAE, Mexico and the Netherlands). Aiming to develop the world’s most secure digital health passport, VPlatform technologies and VST Enterprises’ VCode will be integrated into the digital health passports with the two companies are looking at a goal of supplying 50 mn Covi-passes (digital health passports).

 

  • Digital tourist/traveller

In order for touchless travel & digital health passport technology to work efficiently, more and more travel companies, airlines and hotels will need to adopt digital travelling. While several organizations are quite well advanced in their digital journey, many other businesses will have to get up to speed to adjust to the new normal and efficiently adapt to the changed customer behaviour in order to regain trust. One such example of such an initiative is KTDI or the Known Traveller Digital Identity launched by the World Economic forum which brings together a consortium of governments, individuals, other authorities along with the private sector to allow for seamless paperless travel. In fact, in July 2019 itself the World Economic Forum along with the governments of Canada and the Netherlands had together launched the very first pilot project to ease paperless travel between both countries.

With the use of KTDI, travellers could manage their own profile, garner digital attestations of self-identity data and decide upon the extent they would like to share. On the other hand, consortium partners would gain access to traveller’s identity claims and could use the same for further assessment and reduce risk. For example, in today’s scenario of Covid-19, a traveller could use their digital health wallets to update and store health credentials such as immunization or other relevant health statistics. This would further be combined with other relevant identity data by private or public entities. Since mass-scale screening and testing at airports is going to be rather difficult to achieve, initiatives such as the KTDI would require travellers to consent to sharing their health & identity data, which would allow for border officials to do any risk assessments in advance instead of queuing up travellers and thus would eliminate a major bottleneck.

While recovery is going to be an uphill climb, the industry is going to have to take several measures to make traveller feel comfortable to travel again. For example, in order to ensure guest safety by offering superior cleanliness and improved hygiene standards, several hotels are developing safety protocols based on learnings by offering rooms free of cost to health-workers. In addition, for now airports will need to have travellers tested before they fly and again upon arrival in addition to social distancing norms. Cruise operators will have to ensure that their ships are free of Covid-19 along with their staff using gloves at all times, which are frequently changed as well along with more frequent cleaning of room and common areas. WTCC expects the recovery to first begin domestically (with staycations), before being succeeded by travel to closest neighbouring countries, and finally across continents to re-instate long haul-international travel. In addition, young travellers falling in the age group of 18-35 are most likely to be amongst the first to travel given their lower vulnerability to Covid-19. While Covid-19 is set to be a big blow for the travel & tourism industry, innovation is key with the industry learning to find its way in the new normal.

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