Will the vaccination passport be the key to reviving global tourism?

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Ximena Sampson (go to the author's page)

The COVID-19 vaccination certificate will be a must-have for travelers over the next few months, if not years, if we look at early reopening announcements.

A growing number of countries are preparing to lift the quarantine requirement for visitors who will be able to produce such a certificate under projects that are still tightly controlled. This is the case of French Polynesia and Israel, but also of certain Thai and Caribbean islands.

The European Union, for its part, is aiming for the establishment of a health passport that will allow vaccinated Europeans to travel within the EU, while the British authorities wish to develop a similar document to facilitate travel within the EU. stranger from their citizens.

Almost everywhere, it is urgent to make up for lost time and restart the machine. Because 2020, for the tourism industry, has been a disaster.

The figures are staggering: after a peak of 1.5 billion tourist arrivals in 2019, there was a 73% drop in 2020, or 1 billion fewer tourists. The sector lost $ 1.3 trillion.

The Asia-Pacific region suffered the most, with an 84% drop in tourist numbers in 2020 compared to 2019. That's 303 million fewer tourists. This is also where the most restrictions are in place: 65% of countries in the region have closed their borders to visitors.

Jobs at risk

This absence of international visitors deprives employees of hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as local operators and guides, of income, as well as those who revolve around tourism, such as souvenir vendors or those in charge of tourist attractions. This, not to mention the repercussions on producers who sell their agricultural products to hotels or construction workers.

Some 61.6 million jobs worldwide have been lost due to the pandemic, estimates the International Tourism and Travel Council. Small and medium-sized enterprises, which represent 80% of companies in the sector, are severely affected.

Thailand, popular with international tourists, is one of the countries most affected by the collapse of the industry.

Nathalie Delevaux is Country Director for Thailand of Easia Travel.

For the past year, I have had zero income. I had to lay off 75% of my employees.

A quote from:Nathalie Delevaux, Country Director for Thailand at Easia Travel

The first few months we thought it would be a one-off crisis and we adapted, but when it dragged on, many had to close, at least temporarily, others had to fire, confirms Delphine Guillon, manager for the French markets of the Asian Trails tour operator in Thailand.

If incomes haven't dropped completely for everyone, it's thanks to the internal market. The Ministry of Tourism has launched a campaign to encourage Thais to visit their country. It worked a little, but not enough to make up for the losses caused by the lack of international travelers.

Closed storefronts hurt your heart.

A quote from:Delphine Guillon, manager for the French markets of the tour operator Asian Trails

Most of the guides employed by the agencies returned to their home provinces, while others retrained in sales or catering. Will they be willing to return to work when possible? Nathalie Delevaux is worried.

Children run past closed shops on Karon Beach in Phuket on January 17, 2021.

Thailand has lost 7% of its GDP due to closures linked to the pandemic.

Photo: Getty Images / Sirachai Arunrugstichai

That is why the Thai government’s plan to reopen the popular resort island of Phuket to vaccinated tourists from July 1 is much needed, Ms. Delvaux said.

The government's plan, she explains, is to vaccinate the local population before the tourists arrive. If all goes well, the pilot project will be extended to other tourist areas, including the islands of Krabi and Koh Samui in October, and then to the whole country in January 2022.

Thailand hopes to receive some 100,000 tourists in the third quarter of 2021. Crumbs compared to the 40 million visitors welcomed in 2019, but all the same a start, rejoices Nathalie Delevaux. It has to be, she notes. We're not going to be able to last another year like this.

The pandemic has already destroyed 1.45 million jobs, according to estimates by the Tourism Council of Thailand, where 21.4% of total jobs are related to tourism.

Another region of the world that has been shaken by the fall in international tourism is the Caribbean. For several island states, this industry represents the very basis of their economy.

Putting all your eggs in one basket is always risky, says Marion Joppe, a professor in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism at the University of Guelph.

Whether it is tourism or another industry, when a country is dependent on a single industry, it has enormous vulnerability.

A quote from:Marion Joppe, professor at the University of Guelph.

This is the case with these small paradisiacal islands, where tourism provides a very important part of the jobs.

Tourism is ubiquitous in the economy and it has an impact on everything, says Frank Comito, special advisor to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA). It has an impact on government revenues and even on grocery expenses.

Tourism affects so many lives and livelihoods.

A quote from:Frank Comito, of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association

In countries like the United States or France, the strength of the internal market has largely helped to withstand the shock of the pandemic. The Caribbean islands are in the opposite situation, argues Marion Joppe. They are very dependent on tourism and especially on international tourism, because their population is minimal. So there isn't really an internal market.

The losses suffered by the tourism industry have repercussions on other economic sectors, such as restaurants, beverages and entertainment, recalls the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which estimates that each million dollars lost in tourism income drops a country's national income from 2 to 3 million.

In some small Caribbean islands, 60% to 70% of GDP comes from tourism, recalls Michelle McLeod, professor at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

This is how currencies return to countries, thanks to international tourism, she explains. Knowing that they are vulnerable, they are considering the possibility of diversifying their economy by offering other services. That being said, in our beautiful islands, tourism is our comparative advantage., says McLeod.

A sunset on the beach.

The region of Negril, famous for its sandy beaches, is part of the new sanitary corridor.

Photo: Getty Images / DANIEL SLIM

Normally, three to six cruise ships dock each day at major Caribbean ports. This represents between 12,000 and 20,000 daily tourists.

For these regions, it is therefore essential that travelers return as quickly as possible.

Some islands resumed receiving visitors in the third quarter of 2020 with very strict health protocols, which allowed them to earn some income.

Jamaica, for example, has opened resilient corridors along its northern coast, where 80% of tourism is concentrated, but only 1% of the population. Since June 2020, visitors have been admitted, provided they obtain prior authorization and present a negative COVID test.

Is the vaccination certificate the solution?

Some believe that a vaccination certificate will allow tourism to resume. Thus, to enter the Bahamas, from May 1, people who have been vaccinated at least two weeks previously will no longer have to take PCR tests or undergo quarantine.

In the United States, 140 million people (who have already received their first dose) could therefore soon travel again., points out Michelle McLeod.

Close-up of a hand holding a phone with an app showing that the certificate holder has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

To regain a certain normality, some countries use the vaccination passport.

Photo: Getty Images / Onfokus

Cruise lines Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises will also require their passengers to receive two doses of the vaccine before boarding their ships when activities resume this summer.

This is why it is imperative to agree at the international level on the modalities of the establishment of a vaccination certificate, thinks Marion Joppe. Everyone is talking about such a type of passport or certificate and a lot of countries are doing their own little thing. But, for international tourism, things are not going well.

You can't have twenty different things, because you want to be able to travel from one country to another.

A quote from:Marion Joppe, professor at the University of Guelph

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has developed a <q data-attributes = '{"lang": {"value": "fr", "label": "Français"}, "value": {"html ":"travel pass"," text ":" travel pass "}} 'lang =" fr”>travel pass, an application that contains travelers' health data, such as their vaccination certificate and the tests they have performed, to facilitate checks. Some companies have adopted it, but not others, notes Ms. Joppe. It's really a bit of rubbish at the moment.

The researcher regrets that the World Tourism Organization does not comment on the subject, when it should take the lead and propose solutions for a revival of the sector. The industry has long demanded to know the criteria that will allow borders to reopen, says Ms. Joppe.

Frank Comito of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association is also asking. Until there are clear protocols, there will be no massive movement in that direction, he said. But once the protocols for proof of vaccination are clear and accepted by industry globally, the movement will accelerate. Many of our destinations are watching this closely.

And when the borders reopen, we must not miss the opportunity, thinks Nathalie Delevaux, of Easia Travel. I hope people are not afraid to take the trip, because Thailand now is heavenly.

The beaches are deserted and, without mass tourism, the seabed is more beautiful than ever. The first tourists who come are very lucky.

A quote from:Nathalie Delevaux, Country Director for Thailand of Easia Travel
A diver observes a coral reef filled with colorful fish.

Thanks to the closure of the resorts, Thailand's aquatic ecosystem has recovered.

Photo: Getty Images / ROMEO GACAD

Read also :

  • The future of post-pandemic tourism
  • Will it be necessary to be vaccinated to travel to the next world?

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