Tectonic effect of COVID-19 on tourism, hospitality sectors

Herald Report


The worldwide spread of coronavirus that has devastated the global economy has also hit hard the tourism and hospitality industry with major tourist destinations seeing limited visitors while several airlines have suspended or limited their operations.

The World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations, (UNWTO) in response to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, has cancelled immediately, all its events planned until 30 April.

It is implementing public health protocols based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Spanish authorities, as the host country of UNWTO, said a statement issued by the organisation.

In Pakistan, a number of events have been cancelled impacting the hospitality sector.

Hotels in Pakistan are also bearing the brunt of the virus as citizens have been restricted from travelling due to which hotel bookings in major cities of the country have dropped significantly, reported The Express Tribune newspaper.

“The effects of coronavirus on Pakistan’s hotel industry started to weigh in from February, which intensified further by the first week of March,” said the report quoting Pakistan Hotels Association Chairman Zubair Baweja.

Several events have been cancelled due to non-participation of foreign delegates and major companies called off their events as well thus cancelling hotel bookings.

According to Mr Baweja, the business of all 200 member hotels has declined significantly.

Pakistan’s hotel industry lost Rs100 million in February alone due to a substantial drop in the number of occupancies. Baweja recalled that until January 2020, the hotel booking rate was 95% which declined to 40% by the first week of March.

He expressed concern that complete lockdowns in Western countries, restriction of airlines’ operations and cancellation of events, scheduled to take place in Pakistan, due to security measures could further reduce this number.

The hotel managements are asking their guests not to participate in the scheduled events if they experience any symptoms of the virus such as flu or fever.

According to the newspaper, travel agents around the globe are also actively working day and night due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. Most travel agents are currently engaged in providing their clients with an emergency change plan for their planned trips.

The majority of the travel agencies operating in Pakistan are currently occupied in bringing Pakistani travellers back from Saudi Arabia within a 72-hour deadline put in place by the kingdom and to send Iqama holders in Pakistan back to Saudi Arabia within the timeframe.

According to Faisal Naeem, Chairman of Karachi Chamber of Commerce’s Travel and Tourism Committee, inward travel within Pakistan too has decreased significantly with outbound travelling; travel trends have dropped by 60-70%.

Faisal said that the number of travellers leaving Pakistan for foreign countries was extremely limited particularly due to a lockdown in Europe coupled with the issuance of travel directions from the US aimed at travellers from different countries.

Also read: Impact of the Coronavirus Ripples Across Asia. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/23/travel/coronavirus-asia-tourism.html

He speculated that the effects of the coronavirus would be witnessed throughout the year, affecting the local travel and transportation industry. He added that summer holidays used to be the peak tourism season in Pakistan, however, much of the business would be terminated now due to premature vacations.

UN agencies join forces against COVID-19

The UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili met the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva to further advance the two agencies’ coordinated response to the worldwide Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

The heads of both United Nations agencies stressed the need for international cooperation and responsible leadership and the solidarity of the tourism sector and of individual tourists for helping minimize the impact of COVID-19.

The UNWTO secretary-general said: “The COVID-19 outbreak is first and foremost a public health issue.”

The two organisations reaffirmed the importance of strong cooperation and international solidarity and the recognition of the role tourism can play both now and in the future.

Proportionate response

Mr Pololikashvili and Dr Tedros confirmed the two UN agencies’ commitment to ensuring any response to COVID-19 is proportionate, measured and based on the latest public health recommendations.

Mr Pololikashvili added that the tourism value chain touches upon every part of society. This makes tourism uniquely placed to promote solidarity, collaboration and concrete action across borders in these challenging times and also ideally positioned to once again drive future recovery.

Responsible communications

They called for responsible communications and reporting of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak and stressed the importance of ensuring all communications and actions are evidence-based so as to avoid stigmatizing sections of society and spreading panic.

Next steps

The two organisations agreed to liaise with UNWTO members to further advance tourism’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

UNWTO will also communicate with other UN bodies, including ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and the IMO (International Maritime Organization), and with IATA (International Air Transport Association) and with key sector stakeholders to ensure tourism’s response is coordinated and consistent.

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