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UNWTO leads action for tourism’s COVID-19 mitigation, recovery

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Zurab Pololikashvili


Predicts International Tourist Arrivals Could Fall by 20-30%

The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has released a set of recommendations calling for urgent and strong support to help the global tourism sector not only recover from the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 but to ‘grow back better’.

The Recommendations are the first output of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, established by UNWTO with high-level representatives from across the tourism sector and from within the wider United Nations system.

Recognising that tourism and transport has been among the hardest hit of all sectors, the recommendations are designed to support governments, the private sector and the international community in navigating the unparalleled social and economic emergency that is COVID-19.

“These specific recommendations give countries a check-list of possible measures to help our sector sustain the jobs and support the companies at risk at this very moment. Mitigating the impact on employment and liquidity, protecting the most vulnerable and preparing for recovery, must be our key priorities,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

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Recognising the diverse realities in each country as well as the evolving nature of this crisis, the document will continue to be updated.

“We still do not know what the full impact of COVID-19 will be on global tourism. However, we must support the sector now while we prepare for it to come back stronger and more sustainable. Recovery plans and programmes for tourism will translate into jobs and economic growth,” the Secretary-General added.

Meanwhile, the world tourism body has released its updated assessment of the likely impact of the COVID-19 on international tourism. Taking into account the unparalleled introduction of travel restrictions across the world, UNWTO expects that international tourist arrivals will be down by 20 per cent to 30 per cent in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures. However, UNWTO stresses that these numbers are based on the latest developments as the global community faces up to an unprecedented social and economic challenge and should be interpreted with caution in view of the extreme uncertain nature of the current crisis.

An expected fall of between 20-30 per cent could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$300-450 billion, almost one third of the US$ 1.5 trillion generated in 2019. 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 per cent in 2003.

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UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “Tourism is among the hardest hit of all economic sectors. However, tourism is also united in helping to address this immense health emergency – our first and utmost priority – while working together to mitigate the impact of the crisis, particularly on employment, and to support the wider recovery efforts through providing jobs and driving economic welfare worldwide.”

Pololikashvili added that, while it is too early to make a full assessment of the likely impact of COVID-19 on tourism, it is clear that millions of jobs within the sector are at risk of being lost. Around 80 per cent of all tourism businesses are small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the sector has been leading the way in providing employment and other opportunities for women, youth and rural communities.

Alongside this new assessment, UNWTO underlines tourism’s historic resilience and capacity to create jobs after crisis situations, while also emphasising the importance of international cooperation and of ensuring the sector is made a central part of recovery efforts.

Since the start of the current crisis, UNWTO has been working closely with the wider United Nations system, including directly alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO) to guide the sector, issuing key recommendations for both high-level leaders and individual tourists. To better consolidate and strengthen the response, the Organisation has also established the Global Tourism Crisis Committee.

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