Nguyen Dinh Nguyen

Business, Economics and Trade Analyst

Tourism after Covid: Overview of the Challenges that Face the Industry

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a calamitous effect on the tourism industries. In London, what once was a tourist hub saw a 98.3% reduction in monthly incoming air travellers, from over 6.8m to just over 100 thousand. The effects of the pandemic are especially disastrous in countries whose economies were built around the travel industry. Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives among others were hit hardest as tourism account for over 50% of their GDP. It is easy to understand how these nations are eager to reopen their travel economies, and with the arrival of vaccines, Seychelles, among others, are the first to ease their rules. However, risk that comes with reopening poses a significant threat to any economies who wish to open. New strains of Covid-19, surges in case numbers and administrative problems with ensuring vaccinations and quarantine amongst other may hinder any attempts to welcome tourists. Governments are stuck in a dilemma here, on one hand, COVID-19 related deaths in places like Brazil are still on the increase, signalling the ongoing threats of the virus on public health. On the other, countries, especially smaller nations whose economies depend on tourism, cannot afford to keep their borders closed indefinitely. As countries open, there will likely be many obstacles in the process. 

The UAE is a success story of COVID. The nation has managed to keep its hospitality sector open for most of last year. The nation allows foreign travellers to enter if they tested negative to the coronavirus 72hrs prior. While other countries’ tourism industries struggled, hospitality sector in the country have largely returned to normal. Abu Dhabi enjoyed an 82.3% hotel occupancy rate in December 2020 while Dubai followed at 70.2%. The figure resembled those of 2019, before the pandemic. Dubai continues to open its door to foreign tourists with the help of an unlikely vaccine contender, the Chinese manufactured Sino Pharm. The gamble on the highly controversial vaccine worked, however, as the UAE is second in vaccination rates, all without any major vaccine-related health concerns. The UAE shows the world that tourism can be sustainable during a pandemic and the key to it is vaccination. Countries like Maldives and Seychelles has followed the UAE in opening its border. From January 2021, visitors who were vaccinated can enter Seychelles without the need for quarantine. The country is prepared to further their measures by allowing unvaccinated visitors to enter, provided they test negative for Covid.  

Even with PCR testing, welcoming unvaccinated tourist could still be problematic.

In a report published in British Medical Journal, PCR tests have a false negative rate of between 2%-29%, this means that there will be people who have COVID-19, but tested negative, entering the country. However, Seychelles is expected to have 70% of its population vaccinated by March 2021, making a surge in coronavirus case on the islands unlikely. Other countries, on the other hand, will have to proceed with caution as to opening their borders to unvaccinated tourist. The UK, for example, have just managed to vaccinated over a third of its 66m population – likely to lead to new waves of infections if tourism opens. Moreover, risks of new COVID variants that evade the vaccines will have to be closely monitored in order to sustain the hospitality sector without risking more lives.

If countries have no choice but to restart their travel industry, what could be done to ensure they keep the virus at bay? One of the most prominent solution are the controversial vaccine passports. The document, whether it be digital and physical, will serve as a proof that a person has had the full dose of vaccine. The initiative drew criticism from EU countries for its inherent discriminatory practices; vaccinated people will be given more rights than those to have yet to get the shots. It is even more problematic when factoring in people who will not be able to get the vaccines due to genuine health concerns. Lateral flow Covid tests, like those used in the UK, are being used at airports as a last line of defence against the virus. The tests suffer from the same criticism to those of PCR tests in showing false negative and letting infected travellers through. However, there will come a point where every government will have to open the travel economy back up, once state-funded support schemes dry up. Countries will have to deal with an “acceptable” death toll each year, and booster shots of the vaccine will have to be roll out once the virus inevitably mutates. There are lights at the end of the tunnel though, if measures to keep Covid deaths at a minimum are properly introduced, such as adopting a mask culture where the sick wears face covering as seen in Asians countries, business could still go on as usual.

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