//Comment: Gloria Guevara, WTTC

Comment: Gloria Guevara, WTTC

Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, details three steps governments must take to protect travel and tourism.

The travel and tourism sector is in a fight for its survival. Borders have closed. Skies have cleared. And hotels have closed their doors.

These are extraordinary measures to combat an extraordinary virus. The travel industry has faced the threat of pandemics before. From the SARS outbreak in 2002 to Ebola just a few years ago, I have sobering first-hand experience of how devastating their effects can be. 

As former tourism minister for Mexico, I was closely involved in the country’s recovery effort following the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. The global economic impact cost our industry an estimated US$55 billion, with the Mexican tourism industry suffering a $5 billion loss. 

But the travel sector’s proven track record of resilience, to bounce back in times of crisis, has improved significantly in recent years. World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) analysis shows that between 2001 and 2018 the average recovery time from crises fell from 26 to ten months. Important lessons have been learned from previous pandemics, most crucially the need for public- and private-sector collaboration.

Indeed, I’ve been humbled by WTTC members and their dedicated employees going the extra mile to provide help under these difficult circumstances. The entire travel community has banded together to face the biggest global challenge in a generation. In the UK, furloughed cabin crew at TUI and British Airways came to the aid of the NHS, relieving key workers to free up their time to fight on the front line. 

Across the Atlantic, hotel giant Hilton teamed up with American Express to offer free rooms to more than one million healthcare professionals fighting the pandemic. Meanwhile, Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, offered up ships as floating hospitals to treat patients suffering from less-critical, non-Covid-19 related conditions. 

From global multinationals to SMEs, there are so many examples of kindness. This spirit of generosity shows just how incredible our people are at using their skills to help others. But travel and tourism itself cannot survive unaided. Covid-19 represents an unparalleled threat to the global economy, demanding an urgent response. That’s why WTTC called upon governments around the world, on behalf of the entire sector, to take three immediate measures to safeguard the future of travel.

Firstly, to waive or defer all duty and taxes, which add unnecessary expense, and introduce flexible refund policies that protect travel agencies and future bookings. Secondly, for governments to extend unlimited interest-free loans to millions of businesses, large and small, as a stimulus to prevent them from collapse. And thirdly, grant financial help to workers who are facing severe economic pressures or unable to work. Travel, in particular, may require this support longer than other sectors.

With a million jobs lost in travel and tourism in the UK alone, and up to 75 million at risk globally, this support must be immediate and unwavering. Any delay risks not only irreparable short-term damage but also hampers the global recovery effort.

Our 2020 Economic Impact report underscores the critical role travel and tourism will play in kick-starting the UK economy once lockdown measures have been lifted.

WTTC analysis shows travel and tourism was responsible for almost four million jobs in the UK in 2019 – 11 per cent of the country’s total workforce. Travel and tourism also generated nearly £200 billion in GDP, equating to nine per cent of the UK economy, which grew 1.3 per cent last year.

This huge contribution is why it is imperative that critical measures are put in place to protect this essential, job-creating sector. Wanderlust hasn’t faded. Nor has the unceasing capacity of the travel and tourism sector to go the extra mile. 

And we are certain that the desire to travel will be stronger than ever post Covid-19. Our travel experts and particularly travel agencies will play a vital role as trusted advisers to lead the bounceback of our sector. 

We will get through this. But the travel sector needs an unprecedented level of support for an unprecedented crisis – not only to ensure its immediate survival, but to unlock the potential of travel and tourism to power the fastest possible recovery.