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Successful travel companies invest time and money in customer service to offer a quality experience knowing that repeat business and referrals are driven by people's perceptions of the business. These are very difficult times for the sector with demand having collapsed. UNWTO reported that by the end of April 100% of destinations had restrictions on international arrivals and domestic tourism. Tour Operators have delayed payments to suppliers and procrastinated over consumer refunds, a voucher is of little use to customers who have lost their incomes, the vouchers can't be used buy food. James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid, penned an open letter recognising that there are aspects of the crisis that they had not handled well. "For any customers who feel disappointed with our response to their enquiries during this time, who feel as though we have taken their trust for granted, or who feel like we’ve let them down, I hear you, and I apologise." He has taken responsibility, apologised and taken action. People remember how you deal with problems - reputations are built and damaged by the ways companies deal with their customers and suppliers in crises.
Last month's RT News carried examples of companies and destinations maintaining meaningful connections with their client base. Ilha Blue, recognised in the 2020 Inspirational Africa Responsible Tourism Awards, is working during the pandemic to keep their people safe, to use the time to create new experiences and to imagine and create the future they want – more women in their workforce, leadership on environmental issues, new more transformative travel offerings and increased connectivity with their global network of friends/volunteers/travellers. They are doing good and telling their clients and agents about it.
The impact of Covid-19 on holidaymakers is that they don't get a foreign holiday and in many countries any holiday. Of course only a minority ever have a holiday year after year, a holiday is in a fundamental sense a luxury good. In the destinations large numbers of people are put out of work, in larger companies, able to access government funds, they may be furloughed, but the vast majority of tourism is delivered by SMEs, micro enterprises and sole traders. As Justin Francis has argued there is far less welfare support for those who lose their livelihoods in developing countries, there are altruistic and self-interested reasons to act. "The developed north relies on many less developed countries to deliver travel "product". Recovery here requires it there – we need to rebuild together."
Fair Trade Tourism South Africa has pointed out that the "crisis has shone a light on many of the unFair Trade dynamics in the sector and the pause over the coming weeks gives us all time to reflect, to assess, and to redefine how we want travel and tourism to look going forward; to acknowledge the impacts we have; and to unpack the trade dynamics that need to be addressed. It has given us time to remember that humanity comes before commerce and that we need to look out for each other however we can." They list many businesses which have launched fundraisers to offset lost income (and tips) for their staff Coffee Shack Backpackers & Umlani Bushcamp, stepped up their philanthropic efforts Uthando (Love) SA , Spier has continued to support its partnerships with local communities, Sani Lodge Backpackers, Isibindi Africa Lodges is raising funds to purchase and deliver masks, sanitisers and food parcels to its neighbours. Bulungula Lodge completely repurposed the lodge, it was closed to travellers and converted into a Safe Home for the elderly and those deemed most vulnerable. Ubuntu Beds has united hospitality businesses (and their empty beds) with the healthcare professionals fighting COVID-19 on the front lines.
South Africa has so far very effectively addressed Covid-19 with a lockdown and a ban on international arrivals and inter-province travel. it has close to 20,000 confirmed cases (close to 4,000 of whom have recovered) and under 200 deaths. But the lockdown has a price. Tourism was seen as an important employer in post-apartheid South Africa, a relativity labour intensive employer which could create employment in urban and rural areas. The travel bans have resulted in real hardship particularly for the community owned lodges often built on restituted land. Trans-frontier Parks Destinations (TFPD) is approaching clients, operators and agents who sell community owned lodges to contribute to relief funds incentivised by entry into a draw for a fully-inclusive stay and a guaranteed discount on their next booking. !Xaus Lodge is the pride and joy of the local ‡Khomani San and Mier communities, Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is owned by the Batlokoa community in Phuthaditjhaba.
There are opportunities to do good, and build reputation, in the originating markets too. Airbnb has encouraged its property owners to offer healthcare staff and first responders places to stay that allow them to be close to their patients – and safely distanced from their own families. In Los Angeles 300+ hotels have volunteered more than 30,000 rooms to the LA County Department of Public Health and other agencies as temporary shelter to support the region’s COVID-19 response, stepped up their philanthropic efforts.
Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel has pointed to the "new community spirit fostered under the crisis, particularly about how we are all looking out for each other and the vulnerable" and expressed the hope that travel consumers "reward travel companies who can demonstrate they care about local residents, culture and environments throughout their entire operations (not just through token donations to charity)." He reports that the consumer feedback on Responsible Travel demonstrates that "customers find a deeper connection with places and more authentic experiences as a result of tourism designed together with local communities."
The ambition of the Awards has always been to recognise businesses and destinations which are making tourism better and to spread good practice – to educate, inspire and challenge others to do likewise or do more. In this year when the world faces a global pandemic, it seemed inappropriate to continue with the World Responsible Tourism Awards as usual. Its is not Business as Usual, and the crisis is likely to continue for some time. This year the judges have decided to commend businesses and destinations which are taking responsibility and addressing the challenge of Covid-19.
This year we shall be taking recommendations from anyone keen to tell us about destinations, businesses and other organisations or individuals which are using tourism, or tourism facilities, to address the challenge of Covid-19. To nominate your own business or one you know to be taking responsibility go the Awards page. Remember we can only choose from amongst those that are nominated
The global pandemic has, at the time of writing taken the lives of 280,000, it will likely to take many more. It is an urgent crisis. But Covid-19 is not the only crisis confronting us. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, pointed out on Earth Day, that the toll taken by the virus is both "immediate and dreadful". But the crisis is also a wake-up call, "to do things right for the future." He argues that "Public funds should be used to invest in the future not the past." The subsidies to businesses which damage our environment must cease and polluters must pay for their pollution. Climate risks must be at the heart of all public policy. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has pointed out that 'We can't self-isolate from climate change'.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the world will use 6% less this year - equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India. Analysis by Carbon Brief, suggest that emissions this year will fall by 4-8%, saving somewhere between 2 and 3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas. The drop in oil consumption has been fives times larger than in the 2009 recession. more In the UK the government's Committee on Climate Change has advised that investment should be in broadband rather than roads, that unemployment should be tackled by creating green jobs and pointed out that: "Many sectors of the UK economy do not currently bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for these sectors.”. Different countries will move on from Business As Usual to different degrees - the choices societies and their governments make will affect the climate we all share.
The demand for jet fuel is down 65% year on year to April; in Europe flights are down 90%, in the US ~50%. Airbus still has a very healthy order book. "By April 30th, Airbus’ gross orders in 2020 totalled 365 aircraft. After cancellations the net orders stand at 299 aircraft. " It's ".. backlog of aircraft remaining to be delivered as of 30th April stood at 7,645." The Lufthansa airlines group intends to reactivate 80 aircraft in June. Heathrow Airport has been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme against a block on its plans for a third runway. The aviation sector is frustrated by airport closures, travel bans, social distancing and quarantine regulations but despite the calls for greener business they are preparing for a return to business as usual. The aviation industry remains our sector’s Achilles’ heel. Although some governments have pushed back on bailouts the sector has secured a great deal of funding with few environmental requirements. Greenpeace, Transport & Environment, and Carbon Market Watch using publicly available data have joined together to maintain a regularly updated, airline bailout tracker. Take a look.
The dependency of aviation on government bailouts creates an ideal opportunity for governments to encourage and fund a step change and to develop new technologies which could provide sustainable jobs through green technology. The French government has adopted a progressive approach, their rescue of Air France is contingent on a reduction in domestic flying and Air France becoming "the most environmentally respectful airline". "When you can travel by train in less than two and a half hours, there is no justification for taking a plane." M. Le Maire, France's Minister of the Economy and Finance, said the coronavirus crisis provided an opportunity to "reinvent our model of economic development to ensure it is more respectful of the environment". 2% of the fuel used by Air France's planes will have to be derived from alternative, sustainable sources by 2025 and by 2030 the airline would have to cut its carbon emissions by half per passenger and per kilometre from 2005 levels. more
These are extraordinary times, a return to business as usual looks improbable. The IMF is predicting that the ‘Great Lockdown’ will result in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis. They say that there is considerable uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like when we emerge from this lockdown. For tourism to be possible, the lockdown has to have been lifted at the same time in the source market and the destination. And the traveller needs to be confident that their destination is safe and that there is no risk of being trapped in the destination by a lockdown in the destination or at home. There are likely to be further lockdowns and compulsory quarantine for travellers whenever coronavirus spikes. The travellers will also need to be confident that the risk of catching the virus travelling to the airport, on the plane, coach, train or cruise liner is low. Fear will remain a major deterrent, and travel insurance may continue to be unavailable or too expensive for cover for risks associated with the pandemic, including being quarantined abroad. more
The International Labour Organization estimates that as many as 1.6 billion of the world’s two billion informal economy workers are affected by COVID-19 lockdown and containment measures and face the "dilemma of choosing between dying from hunger and dying from the disease." In the US the cruise industry has been denied bailouts, seen as a consumer luxury industry which is not fundamental to the American economy and an industry which is largely registered abroad avoiding paying tax in the US. New Zealand quickly locked down when Covid-19 arrived and managed to reduce its coronavirus cases to zero in seven weeks. It is now planning a travel bubble, or corridor, including Australia and some Pacific Islands to enable travel and tourism to begin again. At the beginning of May Skyscanner surveyed 2,200 people across three continents and found that travel "remains a priority once restrictions are lifted – with 33% travelling ‘more than ever’ once it’s safe, 31% travelling more cautiously and 22% more domestically."
There are reports of Airbnb bookings rebounding in Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Alabama all ended lockdown policies in late April. In South Africa, one of the few African countries with a significant domestic market, Lee-Anne Bac, Director of Strategic Development and Advisory at BDO, is advising that "the industry needs to relook and gear towards catering and marketing to the domestic market" cautioning that "This means having more affordable products in the tourism industry. And, in order for it to be more affordable, there needs to be more flexibility.”
Confronted by the common challenge of restoring normal life without increasing infection rates, countries have responded in ways which reflect their circumstances, culture and their government structures. Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Kerala, Milan and York are all in different ways talking about pressing the reset button. more Justin Francis has pointed out that the "vast majority of people who work in tourism, reputedly 1 in 12 globally, work in small or micro businesses (restaurant staff, taxi drivers, hotel room service and front desk, curio and craft sellers, guides for museums, etc) and not global corporations. "The economic impacts on them and their families should not be ignored". Jeremy Smith has asked whether tourism can be radically transformed and avoid generating xenophobia, racism, and individualism: "Acts of altruism and support for host communities must continue to be our defining characteristics in the months to come." He goes on to quote Guillaume Cromer who has asked: “Instead of putting money back into the machine like we used to, couldn’t we… support citizens who are struggling to go on holidays”?
In the UK the PM has confirmed plans to force all international arrivals, including returning holidaymakers, to self-isolate. A position described by Oliver Smith in the Telegraph as "closing the stable door after the horse has bolted". Passengers arriving from abroad will have to provide an address where they will put themselves in quarantine for two weeks, enforced by spot checks and fines. This will not apply to arrivals from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Island and the Isle of Man, part of a common travel area, and very probably France.‡ It is not clear if this will apply to passengers who transit through Paris or Dublin. Airlines UK, UK-registered airlines have responded: “This [quarantine] proposal will effectively kill international travel to and from the UK and cause immeasurable damage to the aviation industry and wider UK economy. Nobody is going to go on holiday if they’re not able to resume normal life for 14 days, and business travel will be severely restricted. It will also make it all but impossible for aviation to resume any time soon, thereby setting back the UK’s economic recovery still further.” There can be no leisure travel with quarantine rules in place, and very little business travel.
In the US the TSA is reporting on covid-19 precautions at airports and the numbers of staff who have tested positive, airport security requires a degree of proximity. Until there is a vaccine or effective treatment Covid-19 will constrain international and even domestic travel. Temperature checking cameras are in place at many airports and Heathrow is experimenting with their introduction. Testing at the airport immediately prior to departure may be an option, as is testing on arrival, the Advance Passenger Information system could be used to communicate the results and the testing service could be paid for by the traveller. It is not clear how a refund would be secured if a passengers was denied boarding or how a traveller tested positive on arrival would be treated. Travel insurance is unlikely to cover the Covid-19 risk.
Authorities in Greece, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands have talked about antibody-based passports to enable safe entry for tourists. In the UK Onfido, submitted written evidence on “the role of Digital Identity in Immunity Passports” to the Science and Technology Committee. There are major human rights and medical problems with this approach. Thus approach would create a perverse incentive for infection in order to acquire antibodies and move about. The World Health Organization advises "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection." And " People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission."
‡The Daily Telegraph reports that President Macron has threatened to impose a two-week quarantine on Britons visiting France, after the Government announced it had similar plans that could begin as early as next month. This would have resulted in a two week quarantine wither side of the Channel. Downing Street and the Elysée are reported to have issued a joint statement agreeing quarantine measures would not apply between France and the UK "at this stage”. “The Prime Minister and the President agreed to work together in taking forward appropriate border measures. This co-operation is particularly necessary for the management of our common border, No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage; any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner.”
Tourism relies on source markets, domestic and international, to generate customers with money, time and freedom to travel; on safe and reliable transport being available to facilitate travel; and the destination needs to be seen as safe to visit. There are only a few risks that tourism can address alone - the pandemic has demonstrated how reliant tourism is on the resilience of the source markets and destinations and the transport infrastructure. Businesses, DMOs and NTBs can take some steps to 'shock proof" the industry locally and to find alternative markets if one collapses, but resilience requires a much broader approach and collaboration.
Kerala has developed greater resilience in the wake of recent extensive flooding, and they were quick to bring Covid-19 under control. RT has been successful in Kerala in large part due to the strength of state and local government. Domestic tourists will arrive first, but the industry in Kerala can do little to hasten their arrival or that of the international visitors, many of whom repeat. Belize has, at the time of writing, had 18 cases of Covid-19 and 2 deaths. Their primary source market is the US (75%), where Covid-19 has not plateaued. They are encouraging domestic tourism and hoping to open for international guests from July with a Covid-19 test on arrival.
In the growing literature on overtourism there is much emphasis on international tourism but domestic tourists too contribute to overtourism. In Cornwall in the UK accommodation is already reported to be 85% booked for July and August. Even during the lockdown in the UK there have needed to be campaigns to discourage people from visiting beauty spots. more
Holidaymakers who previously have holidayed abroad can't, they will holiday at home. In the Huangshan mountain park in Anhui province on Saturday April 4 there were "thousands of people crammed together, many wearing face masks, eager to experience the great outdoors after months of travel restrictions and strict lockdown measures." Before 08:00 park managers took the unusual step of issuing a notice declaring that the park had reached its 20,000 person daily capacity. more
In the UK the announcement by the PM of a relaxation of the rules on travelling for recreation has resulted in a plea for people have been told to stay away from beauty spots and beaches amid fears relaxed rules allowing longer car journeys would leave areas "inundated with visitors". Some rural areas, including Cumbria and the Lake District, have had relatively high rates of infection and tourism bosses in those areas urged people not to visit. more
Jane Goodall has pointed to the importance of ensuring that the chimps are not exposed to Covid-19. In the last month's RT News we carried the example of Ol Pejeta's fund raising initiative to support the work of the conservancy. World Animal Protection is campaigning to raise funds to care for over 2,000 elephants in the tourism camps in Thailand closed by the pandemic. Across Africa the closure of safari tourism, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is decimating the industry, and leading to an increase in poaching as people struggle to stay alive. more
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