UN counts devastating cost of COVID-19 on global tourism

UN counts devastating cost of COVID-19 on global tourism
UN counts devastating cost of COVID-19 on global tourism

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: The coronavirus pandemic could wipe up to $1.2 trillion off the world’s tourism industry and cost 100 million jobs globally, but investment in domestic tourism could help mitigate some of this damage, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In an online briefing on Tuesday attended by Arab News, UNWTO members outlined the disastrous impact the pandemic has already had on international tourism, and the lasting effects it will have on the global tourism industry.

“Tourism accounts for 7 percent of worldwide trade,” said Zoritsa Urosevic, director of the UNWTO’s Institutional Relations and Partnerships Department, adding that the pandemic’s impact on this sector will be catastrophic.

“Revenues from tourism could fall by $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2020,” she said, and this alone “could reduce global GDP (gross domestic product) by 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent.” Worldwide, “as many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk,” she added.

Urosevic said “no nation will be unaffected” by the sector’s collapse, but it is likely to impact women, youth and informal workers the most.

While the UNWTO’s projections are alarming, they also offer a glimpse into the future of tourism: More domestic travel and greater investment in local tourism infrastructure.

Sandra Carvao, chief of market intelligence and competitiveness at the UNWTO, said: “We often underestimate the volume of domestic tourism.”

As consumers feel less confident flying internationally and many countries have implemented travel restrictions, she explained, demand for domestic tourism is likely to increase.

“There is a good base for domestic tourism in many countries,” Carvao said. In particular, “open-air opportunities, rural settings, nature-based tourism and road trips” are likely to see a surge in demand after much of the world has spent five months confined indoors, she added.

This means countries that already embrace their domestic tourism industries, such as Saudi Arabia, may be better positioned to weather the pandemic’s economic storm.

Opportunities for rural experiences in the Kingdom are in no short supply, and destinations including the Neom megacity and the ancient AlUla heritage site were already providing a world-beating domestic tourism experience.

Based on the UN’s findings, this flourishing industry will only become more important as the country and the world emerge from the shock of the pandemic and into a very different global tourism industry.

This approach is already being embraced by both Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Ministry and its people.

The ministry’s Saudi Summer initiative, launched in June, has encouraged Saudis to embrace all that the Kingdom has to offer, while ensuring health and safety measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While Urosevic and Carvao made clear that every country’s tourism industry will take a hit, the Kingdom’s focus on domestic tourism and embracing the Saudi experience may well mitigate some of the economic disruption the pandemic has caused, and will continue to cause in the future.

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