COVID-19: Whither tourism in the era of a socially isolating world?

Victoria Falls

By Tatenda Mabara (Researcher)

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all sectors of the global economic ecosystem and the tourism and hospitality sector will experience the most severe impact.

This is mainly because tourism is increasingly hypermobile and largely based on interaction among people. Based on the latest COVID19 induced developments such as quarantine measures, travel bans, regional and international border closures, flight, and hotel booking cancellations, there will be a real loss of both regional and international tourist receipts.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO, 2020) estimates that international tourist arrivals could decline by 20-30 percent due to the impact of COVID19.

The case of southern Africa becomes critical as the major tourist source markets in Europe and China which represent nearly 50 percent of international arrivals is the worst affected by COVID-19.   

It can be predicted that even after the lapse of the initial lockdown and social distancing measures there will be no quick appetite by tourists to cross the borders.

The conspiracy theories staining the whole pandemic will not help in quickly resolving the global crisis. Despite the current gloomy picture, research on tourism shows the history of tourism as a very resilient industry.

The tourism sector recovery can be very rapid and could be a vehicle for post-COVID-19 recovery because of its interconnectedness with other sectors of the economy.

With more people being confined in their homes, there is an opportunity to package virtual tours sharing authentic and value for money online experiences.

It is not going to be business as usual for many tourist destinations and there is a need to rethink re-packaging destinations to a socially isolating world. What tourism planners, national governments, and co-creators of tourism need to do is to invest more in promoting domestic tourism and selling virtual tours to international tourists.

There is a need for fiscal and monetary interventions by national governments that help protect investments and jobs. Tourism is a sector with a proven capacity to bounce back and can stimulate recovery to other sectors. It is not easy to predict when the crisis will end, but for now let us stay safe, keep the tourism resource intact, postpone the trips, and look beyond COVID19.

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