Tourists will eventually flock back – but with masks, sanitisers and perhaps a lot of anxiety.
One thing is for sure, the coronavirus pandemic will alter tourism as we know it.
Forget the communal dance by the pool or that careless barefoot stroll around the hotel lobby. Gone is that carefree motion of grabbing a roll from an all-you-can-eat buffet. Oh and forget the spas too!
Covid-19, the viral respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has exposed the vulnerability of hospitals and manufacturers who depend on global supply chains, which are now disrupted. But perhaps its biggest casualty will be the tourism and hospitality industry.
By the end of April, every tourism destination in the world – around 270 in total – has put some sort of travel restriction in place, jeopardising the livelihood of millions of workers, says the World Tourism Association, a UN agency.
“The cure can become deadlier than the virus itself,” Tom Jenkins, the CEO of the London-based European Tourism Association (ETOA), told TRT World, speaking about the reluctance of governments to ease restrictions.
It remains difficult to predict what will happen even after a few months as customer demand for travel and leisure has plunged, he said.
Airlines around the world have suspended flights due to travel restrictions and hotel rooms are empty. Global passenger traffic in March dropped more than 52.9 percent compared to the same month a year ago, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
In other words, global air travel numbers are back to what they were in 2006 – years of growth just wiped out in a couple of months.
Tourism, from a distance
Some countries such as Cyprus, Spain, Bulgaria and Turkey are aiming to reopen their resorts. But that will happen with a lot of precautions as concerns remain over a second wave of infections.
The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and France – all popular tourism destinations – have been hit hard by the coronavirus with each of them recording more 25,000 deaths from the virus.
Tourism spots will reopen with some restrictions and social distancing protocols.
Tourism spots will reopen with some restrictions and social distancing protocols. (AP Archive)
Turkey has managed to keep the fatalities low at 3,520 with aggressive testing and contact tracing.
Tourism accounts for 12 percent of the Turkish economy with more than 2.5 million workers affiliated with the industry. One major concern is the fate of temporary workers, which number around half a million and who travel to places like Antalya in the summer to make a living.
“Tourism defines not just the cities but countries. If you remove tourism from Istanbul a lot of businesses will find their variability jeopardised. Same is true for London or Paris,” says Jenkins of ETOA.
From the roadside vendors who sell smoked chestnuts to the owners of small Kampir outlets at the Ortakoy Sahil, tourism plays a crucial role in the economy.
Last year, 51.8 million tourists visited Turkey and its tourism income was more than $34.5 billion. In March 2020, the number of tourists dropped by more than 50 percent, according to Turkish Statistical Institute.
Authorities here have now put in place a system to gradually reopen some places popular among the tourists.
For instance, hotels and transport companies would need special certifications saying they have properly disinfected the facility, tourists will have to wear masks and meals at buffets will be served from behind glass panels.
But Jenkins says social distancing is going to make it very tricky.
“It’s hard to imagine how an industry that relies on airports and airlines can function with social distancing restrictions.”
However, now industry representatives are urging governments to lift lockdowns in a gradual manner.
Travel groups such as Germany’s TUI AG, the world’s biggest, have urged European governments to come up with a timetable to lift the travel bans.
Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Europe’s GDP with 27 million direct and indirect jobs linked to hotels, transport services and other related businesses, many of which are small.
Hoteliers and travel companies are taking consolation in the slow opening within China, one of the world’s biggest markets for tourists. But within the European Union, the borders remain closed and it remains unclear when travelling goes back to how it was in December last year.
How Turkey plans to deal with the situation
Following are the key points of the plan to gradually reopen tourism destinations in Turkey.
Maximum hotel occupancy to not pass 60 percent
Body temperature of visitors to be checked
Everything in a room from air conditioners to televisions to be disinfected every time someone checks out
At least 12 hours of room ventilation required after check out
Crowding of spaces such as the lobby to be discouraged
Guests will wear masks and maintain a minimum 4.5 feet distance from each other
No fitness centres or spas this season