Battered Global Tourism Industry Makes Reopening Plans

24 Sep 2020 3:10 PM
Six months ago, the global tourism industry was celebrating a record year for travel. Now, it's decimated and facing a recovery that could take years.

Tourism Economics, a data and consulting firm, predicts global travel demand won’t resume its normal pace until 2023.

When tourists do finally return, they will face a changed landscape that incorporates social distancing and other measures to calm residual fears over COVID-19, the condition that has up to now killed a lot more than 244,000 persons worldwide and infected millions more.

“It requires time to shake fear from the hearts of people, not forgetting the economy,” said Mahmoud Hadhoud, founder of Egypt Knight Tours, who doesn’t expect foreign tourists to start out trickling back to Egypt until September.

Last week, Hilton, Marriott and Airbnb all announced increased cleaning procedures worldwide to help ease travelers’ minds. In Egypt, Hadhoud is removing cruises and hot air balloon rides from his packages and replacing them with tours of Egypt’s vast western deserts, where travelers can keep their distance in one another.

At Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, multiple teams will work on scenarios, including putting more space between riders on roller coasters, said John Sprouls, the resort’s chief administrative officer, at a recently available virtual event for tourism officials.

Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox said his company may sanitize dice between users, put fewer seats at blackjack tables and idle slots between players at its casinos in Las Vegas, Boston and Macau.

Gary Thulander, managing director of Chatham Bars Inn, a 106-year-old resort on Cape Cod, said the resort is planning many changes when it reopens this summer, including checking in guests via mobile phones, letting them opt out of room service and lengthening dining hours so fewer guests will be eating concurrently.

The street to recovery will be long and hard for the tourism industry. The US World Tourism Organization predicts global tourist arrivals - or visits from tourists who come with their destinations and stay at least one night - will fall 30% this year from the record 1.5 billion in 2019. Airlines have grounded nearly two-thirds of their planes as passengers vanish. Cruise lines are docked; some won’t sail again until November.

Millions of men and women who rely upon tourism are laid off or furloughed. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 8 million tourism-related staff are jobless right now, or around one-third of total U.S. unemployment, said Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.

Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, the leading airline trade group, said carriers have to fill at least 70% of seats to break even of all flights. If they're necessary to block or remove many seats, they will either stop flying or raise prices 50%, he said.

That may delay recovery for places like Israel, which sees the vast majority of its tourists arrive by air. Diklah Cohen Sheinfeld, chief of staff of the Israeli Tourism Ministry’s director general’s office, said the tourism industry - which employs 250,000 Israelis - was the first ever to be impacted and can be the last to recover.

“There are no tourists no entry to the united states for tourists. The gates are totally closed,” she said.

Occasionally, governments are stepping directly into help the sector. Serge Cachan, president of the Astotel hotel chain in Paris, closed his 17 properties in March and expects to reduce 70% of his business this year. But the French government can help the chain complete it, he said. The government is paying around 80% of furloughed hotel workers’ salaries.

Many destinations anticipate travelers’ behavior changes in the virus's wake. Pornthip Hirunkate, vice president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, thinks more people comes into play small groups or seek personalized tours.

Ander Fuentes, who works as a tour guide in Spain’s Granada province, thinks travelers will shift from crowded beaches to the quieter interior mountains.

“It may be an opportunity to create a new sort of tourism, which is likely to be best for Spain, because within the last 10 years, the tourism boom has been around quantity but not in quality,” Fuentes said. He hopes tourism there picks back up by mid-August.

But not many people are comfortable with reopening. Marco Michielli, who owns the 67-room San Marco Hotel in Bibione, a beach resort east of Venice, Italy, said many hoteliers worry their businesses will be ruined if the virus spreads on their properties. Some would rather reopen next year than serve guests come early july with desk staff and bartenders wearing masks.

‘’If we've rules approved by the ministry, some hotel owners will be convinced to begin to open. But if the hotel must look like a COVID ward, many will refuse to available to guests,’’ he said.

Others say they need reassurance from science - not merely tourist sites - before they travel.

Ema Barnes visited a dozen countries last year, including Serbia, Vietnam and Chile. This season, she decided trips to Jordan and South Korea.

But at this time, Barnes is working remotely in a little town in her native New Zealand. Airports near her are closed, so she's not sure when she’ll make contact with NY, where she works in publishing.

Barnes said she needs some satisfaction - a COVID-19 vaccine, or testing to make sure she is not a carrier - before she resumes her travels.

“I don’t think my desire to visit and explore other places is worth my risking medical of folks in those places,” Barnes said.

Others remain optimistic. Dedy Sulistiyanto, the owner of a tour and adventure provider in Bali, Indonesia, has been promoting his business on social media while it's closed. He has received so many positive responses that he thinks tourism will resume quickly when restrictions are lifted. The majority of his clients are domestic tourists from Indonesia.

"There are so many people out there very eager to do traveling,” Sulistiyanto said.