UNWTO: Trust and cooperation needed in order to relaunch tourism (interview)
The UNWTO has reacted to COVID19 crisis extremely fast. People can search for governmental measures from all over the world on interactive map, but the organisation has launched several online courses, webinars too. What proposals have been made so far, and what initiatives have been taken and planned to be launched?
The world, and of course Europe, are not the same as it was in 2019. Some months ago, no one heard about this virus, and on one expected that it would impact our lives so deeply and so globally creating a health, social and economic emergency. Travel and tourism are among the most affected sectors with airplanes on the ground, hotels closed and travel restrictions put in place in virtually all countries around the world showed by our latest research. This is the deepest crisis in the history of international tourism with serious consequences and far reaching changes we hardly see off today. According to our latest data we expect that international tourist arrivals could be down by 60% to 80% in 2020, which could mean a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$ 910 billion to US$ 1.2 trillion, depending on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders, while putting 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk. This are by far the worst results in the historical series of international tourism since 1950 and would put an abrupt end to a 10-year period of sustained growth since the 2009 financial crisis.
However, as the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says, “Tourism is an important and essential pillar of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And through bringing people together, it promotes solidarity and builds trust and understanding. Because of this, tourism can be a platform for recovery. It will provide the foundations as we grow back stronger and better, as nations and as societies, leaving nobody behind.”
Peter Janech is the only Hungarian colleague of the World Tourism Organization of UN
UNWTO has thus established a Global Tourism Crisis Committee, comprising all sister UN Agencies and all global tourism stakeholders, private and public. With the Committee we are working endlessly to provide analysis, estimate impact and provide recommendations for recovery: Member States of the different UNWTO Regions, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the private sector—the UNWTO Affiliate Members, Airports Council International (ACI), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
In addition, we are carrying out a continuous impact analyses and “intelligence” work where we are monitoring both the figures and the measures introduced by each and every member state and various international organizations in support to the affected businesses, showed in an interactive map or a so-called Global Tourism Data Dashboard.
Moreover, our various technical departments are continuously providing COVID-19 related special Research, such as the latest Report on Travel Restrictions (3 editions), or specific information related to COVID-19 vis-a-vis Vulnerable Groups. This, with all our communication campaign called STAY HOME TODAY, #TRAVELTOMORROW running since April 2020, constitutes the knowledge block which led to our document “Mitigating the Socio-Economic Impact and Accelerating Recovery”, which collects all the recommended actions for the tourism sector and of various international organizations and financial institutions.
Moreover, on 28 May 2020, the Committee released a set of priorities (Priorities for Tourism Recovery) and guidelines (Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism) within the framework of “Actions to Restart Tourism”, to help tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainably from COVID-19.
Alongside the set of recommendations, the Organization has also released a Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package (12 May 2020) to offer guidance to Member States in response to COVID-19. The package is structured around three main pillars: economic recovery, marketing and promotion and institutional strengthening and resilience building.
Moreover, we need to leverage the road of innovation and digital transformation to achieve solutions that would be a benefit for all. UNWTO in this respect has just concluded the Global Healing Solutions Challenge, receiving more than 1100 application from over 100 Countries in the world. Out of these, 30% came from Europe. The challenge identified the most disruptive start-ups, entrepreneurs and driven solutions with the objective to mitigate COVID-19’s impact on tourism.
Last but not least, taking into account that the confinement and the fact that the majority of the people were forced to stay and work from home using online tools, we have reinforced our activities related to Online Education through the UNWTO Online Academy and with the development of theme-based Webinars vis-a-vis COVID-19, in cooperation with our partner institutions and experts for the 5 geographical regions of UNWTO (Subjects: Crisis Communications, Data/analyses, Exhibitions and Meeting Industry, Rural Tourism, Gastronomy Tourism, Wine Tourism, Digital Skills, UN 2030 Agenda and SDGs, etc.).
In addition, UNWTO made sure tourism is part of the conversation. We have made leaders listen. We have made the economic and social case for tourism at high-level meetings of the United Nations agencies, of the G7 and the EU Commission. As you can see, the Organization is working very hard to provide the necessary assistance to our Members to cope in the best possible way with the impact of this unprecedented crisis and to accompany them through the road to recovery.
After the complete cessation of world tourism, now more and more countries are engaged in restarting. What is your position regarding the possibilities of relaunching international tourism?
At this stage, re-launching international tourism would depend on re-opening borders and how much and effectively we can restore confidence and trust. That can be achieved by protecting consumers and by setting joint protocols that make it safe for tourists to travel again. The majority of global destinations still continue to have restrictions on travel in place or have completely closed their borders to international tourism. We are experiencing the gradual re-opening of the borders especially in Europe, but there is still a long way to go, hence, it is very difficult for the time being to talk about international tourism.
Current scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals of 58% to 78% for the year. These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders. The following scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders.
- Scenario 1 (–58%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July.
- Scenario 2 (–70%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early September.
- Scenario 3 (–78%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions only in early December.
There are various discussions taking place as we speak about re-opening borders, involving not only ministers responsible for tourism but also foreign ministers, ministers of interior or even prime ministers in various country formations. What we are experiencing now is that everybody “wants” tourism and that the crisis put tourism into the central discussions of governments and highlighted its real power and what does it exactly mean for the national economies in the form of economic growth or job creation. I hope this won’t change after the “disappearance” or containment of the virus, and that tourism will maintain or even increase its importance for politicians and decision-makers.
We believe that re-opening needs to be gradual and most and foremost related to the careful evaluation and assessment of the epidemiological situation in each country. Of course, in case of a political block such as the European Union, we need a coordinated approach, hence we were pleased with the proposals submitted by Commissioner Breton on 13 May 2020 and hope that the EU countries will follow those guidelines and recommendations. Our utmost and immediate priority is working together to restart tourism operations in the most safe and efficient manner, ensuring maximum cooperation and coordination among all relevant stakeholders at national and international level to foster confidence among travellers, companies and employees. Opening the world up to tourism again will save jobs, protect livelihoods and enable our sector to resume its vital role in driving sustainable development.
Does the UNWTO support the Member States in coordinating the reopening of borders?
UNWTO is working side by side with its Member States, to support their efforts in ensuring first and foremost that lives are saved, livelihoods restored, and that the tourism economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis. We support our Member States in their efforts to re-start tourism. Our utmost and immediate priority is working together to restart their tourism operations in the most safe and efficient manner, ensuring maximum cooperation and coordination among all relevant stakeholders at national and international level to foster confidence among travellers, companies and employees. It is crucial that all key actors, players, decision-makers are able to work together constructively and supportively in order to make sure that the recovery planning activity is as coordinated and compatible as possible, given the nature of the sector which relies on connectivity and people to people’s exchange.
According to some experts, the MICE market may be the first to regenerate on the stage of international tourism. Do you share this view? What does your organization expect this year in the field of business tourism in the world, and in Europe?
According to UNWTO Panel of Experts from around the world, domestic demand would recover faster than international demand, and leisure travel is expected to recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel. We know that the MICE industry has been strongly affected by the disruptive effects of COVID-19. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, hundreds of events have been cancelled all over the world and waking up to the news of cancellations or postponements has become the “new normal”. To overcome these issues, we can – and it has been done more and more all over the world – develop alternative formats that allow people to meet and interact remotely. Virtual and hybrid events emerge as two potential options to be considered in the face of disruption. Therefore, number of meetings and conferences have been redesigned as virtual events and this format is probably the best alternative in these challenging times.
In terms of industry-wide recovery, we believe that the impact of COVID-19 on the MICE and events industry will be longer lasting. The exhibition and business events were the first to be shut down and will open with delay due to the complexity of planning (enhanced cooperation between relevant authorities (national/local) and preparation (among others ensure safety, physical distancing, extended health and safety protocols, crowd control etc.) time for such events.
Digital solutions: In order to face with the new reality, especially regarding social distancing and increased health and safety protocols, enterprises have started swiftly to readapt themselves and adopt the digitization of physical events and have begun the transition of their conferences, summits, and product-launches to a virtual platform.
People come first: Despite the uncertain environment that surrounds this segment, there is no reason to think that in-person meetings will cease to exist. However, companies and organizations will carry out more rigorous cost-benefit analyses regarding business travels and participation in events, since the health and safety of employees will occupy an even more dominant part of decisions. Nonetheless, we know that exhibitions and trade fairs are a fast-track to economic recovery once the coronavirus crisis has passed and will deliver the best return on investment for companies to access markets again.
Peter Janech has arrived to Madrid almost a decade ago in 2011, after spending several years in Brussels, working at the European Parliament, followed by a brief detour in the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. UNWTO represented a kind of dream come true for him, as he always wanted to work for the United Nations, for its multicultural environment, for its aims and principles which have fascinated him very much, having studied International Relations and Diplomatic Studies in Budapest and in Brussels. – we were informed by the Senior Officer of UNWTO.
UNWTO’s Regional Department for Europe is responsible for the effective implementation of the Organization’s priorities and vision in Europe. Through continuous relations with each and every European Member State, as well as with the Affiliate Members (private sector) in the region, the department ensures a fair, yet strategic, geographically-balanced repartition of UNWTO activities, whilst its aim to mainstream tourism at the highest political agenda in Europe, highlighting its key and powerful role in the socio-economic development of the countries. The Senior Officer stressed, that working in this department brings an immense responsibility, since the European Region is the number one tourist destination in the world and its Members are the biggest financial contributors to UNWTO’s budget. The work requires to have a sound understanding of the needs of the region as a whole, as well as those specific of the countries.
In this context, as he is the only Hungarian colleague in the Organization, the Senior Officer highlighted that he feels very privileged to have developed excellent relations with the International Department of the Hungarian Tourism Agency – a special thanks go to Eszter Alföldi and her wonderful colleagues – representing Hungary in UNWTO.
From his early stages in the Regional Department for Europe, he has always been surrounded by great colleagues from different nationalities, such as Austrian, Azerbaijani, Dutch, Georgian, Greek, Lithuanian, Italian, Montenegrin, Norwegian, Uzbek, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian and Spanish, from whom he has learned a great deal. He believes that the multicultural nature of UNWTO have always made us stronger, bringing different backgrounds, cultures and customs under one roof, empowering us to become more assertive, understanding and receptive, which are key in an industry which is based on people to people interactions and exchanges.