Confidence on the rise

The latest update of the UNWTO’s Confidence Index shows greater positivity, reflecting an expectation that the worst of pandemic closures are now nearing their end.  

However, that growth in confidence is set against a global travel market that is still heavily mired in restrictions, as governments adopt differing policies to protect their citizens. Scientists too agree to differ on the best solutions to the Covid-19 pandemic – and all the while, those reliant on the business of international travel and tourism continue to suffer massive losses.  

Figures collated by UNWTO show that early 2021 continued to see massive reductions in tourism. Between January and March, international arrivals were down 94% in Asia and the Pacific, 83% off for Europe, down 81% in Africa, 78% in the Middle East and 71% in the Americas. 

“There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning,” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili. “Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.” 

Of the organisation’s expert panel, 60% now expect a rebound in international tourism in 2022, a figure up from 50% when polled in January. The other 40% are more optimistic, expecting to see a recovery later this year. But the respondents are less optimistic about the pace of full recovery, with nearly half now expecting to have to wait until 2024 for a return to 2019 levels of international tourism.  

Some destinations, having largely completed vaccination programmes, are opening to international arrivals. July will see both Israel and the Thai island of Phuket open to visitors, with minimal travel restrictions. Other countries, such as Spain and Greece, while opening their destinations to international travel, have found key source markets such as the UK still effectively restricting their citizens from making a trip, as home governments impose tough restrictions on travellers when they return.  

Dubai is one location where, in large part due to a fast vaccine rollout, hoteliers are confident. According to consultant KPMG, 75% of hoteliers expect the vaccine rollout to boost business, and half of them reckon occupancy will beat 60% for 2021.  

After peaking at USD114.70 in December and dipping in January, revpar has continued to recover, reaching USD92.90 in April 2021. In the coming months, staycation demand is expected to offset the loss of arrivals from restricted source markets such as the UK and India. Domestic demand accounted for 78% of 2020 business, compared with just 19% in 2019.  

“The nation’s hospitality market has shown tremendous resilience, boasting the world’s second highest occupancy rates in 2020,” notes the report.  

In Europe, a dozen countries are now using the EU’s digital Covid certificate, with the rest of the member countries due to join in by the beginning of July. The digital app provides proof of vaccination, and holds a record of recent Covid test results – and having it will allow frictionless travel between countries.  

European commission officials are reported to be in negotiations with other, non-member states including the US and UK, to allow for further use and recognition of the app. “We are making progress on the regulation of the certificate to facilitate free movement in the 27 member states and, when it is possible, open the borders with the UK and the US,” said European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders. 

HA Perspective [by Chris Bown]: Living as I do in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, the sound of jet aircraft overhead has become all but a memory, over the last year. So last weekend, I was delighted to hear the regular roar above, when I attended a garden party near Windsor. Aircraft regularly taking off from Heathrow – there’s a thing!  

But nowhere near as regularly as back in 2019. And, until governments can get their act together, and commit to not getting scared over the latest Covid-19 warnings, as well as commit to rolling out vaccinations, we won’t see the international tourism sector, and its many allied sectors, enjoy recovery. One bright spot is the European vaccination app; after fumbling their vaccination rollout, at least the bureaucrats seem to have moved faster on a piece of easy to share technology that can oil the wheels of travel.   

In more and more parts of the world now, citizens are more likely to die in a car crash, than from Covid-19 – it really is time for governments to wake up, and open up.  

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