As the COVID-19 pandemic triggers an unprecedented crisis in the tourism sector, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the importance of protecting the industry on Monday, announcing a policy brief for rebuilding tourism in safe, equitable, and climate-friendly ways.
Guterres outlined five key areas of recovery: mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of the crisis, building resilience in the tourism value chain, making the best use of technology in the industry, promoting sustainability and "green growth," and creating partnerships that help tourism in supporting the Global Goals.
Fishing vessels and boats used to ferry tourists sit idle along a deserted beach on Koh Phangan, Thailand, July 5, 2020. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the global tourism industry has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“[Tourism] employs 1 in every 10 people on earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more,” Guterres said in his announcement. “It boosts economies and enables countries to thrive ... That is why it has been so painful to see how tourism has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic."
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates a 60% to 80% decline in international tourism in 2020, making it one of the most severely affected industries.
Since the start of the pandemic, the UN reported a loss of $320 billion in global exports, a number three times higher than the 2009 economic crisis’ cumulative loss.
The dramatic drop in traveling tourists could lead to a loss of $1.2 trillion in overall export revenues — directly jeopardizing 100 to 120 million jobs.
While all countries will be affected by the tourism crisis, Guterres explained that small island nations, least developed countries, and African countries will be most impacted. Small businesses, which shoulder roughly 80% of global tourism, are also most vulnerable to the industry’s economic downfall.
Women make up 54% of the tourism workforce and are at the most risk, alongside youth workers and workers in the informal economy, according to the UN.
Visitors to Cape Town are photographed against a backdrop of Table Mountain, July 31, 2020. For growing numbers of businesses and individuals who depend on the global tourism industry, the question is how and if they'll survive until business picks up.
“For women, rural communities, Indigenous peoples, and many other historically marginalized populations, tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and generating income,” Guterres explained.
The new policy brief aims to support the lives of those immediately affected but also aspires to rebuild tourism sustainably and innovatively.
Beyond economic concerns, the UN’s report also focuses on tourism’s impact on nature and culture.
Around 7% of global tourism is related to wildlife, and the segment grew by 3% in the last year. In small island nations and least developed countries, tourism revenues are influential in marine and wildlife conservation, respectively.
Now, without tourists, funding for conservation efforts have fallen dramatically. With fewer tourists and staff members, the UN reported a rise in poaching, looting, and bushmeat consumption.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has emphasized that tourism has the potential to contribute both directly and indirectly to all of the UN’s Global Goals. The UN intends to use the COVID-19 crisis as a critical moment to rebuild the industry in a more sustainable way that can support the Global Goals more concretely.
Hotel maintenance worker Elgis Moreno is reflected on a mirror as he paints a room at the Capri Hotel, during a lockdown affecting tourism to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Havana, Cuba, June 17, 2020.
By fostering economic growth and development and being a major contributor to job creation, tourism directly relates to Global Goal 1 to end extreme poverty and Global Goal 8, which revolves around full and productive employment and providing decent work.
“Let us ensure tourism regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes, and the protection of our cultural and natural heritage,” Guterres said.