Of the many sectors in the global economy, leisure, sport and tourism are three ‘patients’ that have struggled longest to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism’s suffering earns almost daily bedside bulletins, the latest being France moving to the UK’s amber list – enabling fully vaccinated people to avoid quarantine – only for this breakthrough to be marred by President Macron’s new ‘COVID Passport’ scheme, causing a new chaos in the French tourist industry.
It highlights an all too familiar pattern during the COVID crisis: just as businesses glimpse a chance to bounce back, they then face new obstacles – tourism is still stricken by many curfews and travel restrictions to stop the spread of the virus across the globe.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) tourism barometer points to an 88% decline in the number of international tourist arrivals so far in 2021.
Paul Stannard, chairman of Vector Innovation Fund (VIF), an alternative investment vehicle helping to accelerate the use of enabling technology for pandemic protection and preparedness, said:
“Though COVID-19 is causing fewer fatalities, the spread of infection is not stopping, especially with new variants in the younger population who may be more vaccine-hesitant than older people.
“Therefore, governments must maintain legislations and restrictions to help reduce the spread, the biggest barrier for the tourism industry. Continued investment in technology is required to support industry in managing economies as well as healthcare.
“When we finish double vaccination of the UK population, we will then be straight into booster injections in the lead up to winter – it is an ongoing challenge that we must deal with against infectious diseases.”
The financial repercussions from not doing so have been highlighted by a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report showing how declining international tourism due to the pandemic could cause a $1.7-$2.4 trillion industry loss in 2021, and a potential loss of more than $4 trillion to the global GDP for 2020 and 2021 combined.
Recovery from this disruption will rely massively on global availability and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, but the damage already caused could have long term effects and UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant has urged:
“The world needs a global vaccination effort that will protect workers, mitigate adverse social effects and make strategic decisions regarding tourism, taking potential structural changes into account.”
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism is a lifeline for millions and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries, many of which are highly dependent on international tourism.”
VIF Chairman Paul Stannard added: “The world needs accelerated antiviral drug solutions to manage infectious diseases so that industries and our way of life can continue without the level of disruption we have seen over the last few years. Much of this technology is within our grasp – particularly in the highly innovative nanotechnology sector that has done so much to assist the fight against COVID – but it needs investment now.
“Looking ahead, it is essential to understand how we can invest in technology that supports pandemic protection and preparedness, not just for healthcare provision.”