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The travel and tourism industry is among the worst-hit due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Major tourism economies in Europe, Asia, and across the globe are facing the heat with a bulk of their finances drying up. Getting these industries up and running is of crucial importance, but this must be done gradually and cautiously. Here’s what the way forward looks like for the industry.
This week, Australia and New Zealand agreed to start a trans-Tasman 'travel bubble' that would allow people to move between the two countries. Given that both nations are at similar points on the COVID-19 curve, it would provide an impetus to their economies while keeping the risk of international transmission of the disease low.
This model, however, may not be universally applicable. Take the example of Estes Park in Colorado, which began opening its hotels and short-term rentals to locals. This move promptly saw hundreds of people flock to these locations even while quarantine conditions in the county remained in place. Moreover, in the United States, selectively allowing people from one place into state boundaries is considered unconstitutional, violating the ‘Equal Protection Clause.’ Thus, creating selective bubbles within which travel is permitted may not always be viable.
Tourism ministers of European Union member nations have discussed, among other measures, a ‘COVID-19 Passport’ that would reflect the health status of the person and allow them free travel across the EU and Schengen states. This came in light of the dire status of the travel and tourism industries in these countries, the effects of which are particularly grave in tourism-centric economies such as Italy, Greece, Portugal, and many more.
They have stated that the passports would be subject to “common rules and protocols” for social distancing as well as a tracking mechanism to trace any spread of the virus. This method of standardisation and regulation of protocols has been called for around the world. One such example comes from Chan Chun Sing, Minister of Trade and Industry in Singapore, who asserts that before cross-border travel can resume, common checks mst be put in place. He said this in context of ASEAN nations, many of which are at different stages of the disease curve.
Earlier today we tweeted about a new WHO scientific brief on "immunity passports". The thread caused some concern & we would like to clarify:— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) April 25, 2020
We expect that most people who are infected with #COVID19 will develop an antibody response that will provide some level of protection. pic.twitter.com/AmxvQQLTjM
Chile, in similar fashion, wants to implement ‘Clearance Passports’ which would go a step further and declare that a person who had been infected and recovered from the infection now poses no risk of transmission. This move may be a bit premature given scientists and health professionals have yet to fully understand how the virus works, with no guarantee existing that someone who has been infected once cannot still transmit the disease. "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," said the WHO, also warning against eagerness and false confidence which may risk further infection.
In a model proposed by Imperial College, London, social distancing and home quarantine measures are likely to last a long time yet, but in on-off phases so as to minimise the burden on the healthcare system. If this model is implemented, it could result in windows in which travel is permitted. But extra regulations, such as blocking the middle seat in airplanes coupled with short travel windows would result in prices being hiked up inordinately, making a short trip a very expensive luxury.
According to industry experts, technology could be instrumental in the restoration of the travel industry for two main reasons. Firstly, airlines, hotels, and other related businesses have taken a battering financially and will be looking to cut costs as and when they are allowed to operate again. Large personnel costs can be cut by automating check in procedures using electronic boarding passes and even medical screenings.
Moreover, anxious travellers would be reassured with minimum person-to-person contact through various stages of their journeys. Consequently, robot cleaners, self check-in procedures, and the like will reduce interpersonal interactions, reducing costs and risk of infection alike.
Given the state of the industry, investment in upgrading amenities and improving services are likely to take a back seat for the foreseeable future. New airport lounges and better seats in the plane are likely not going to be a priority while the industry already faces the challenge of being profitable while running at reduced capacity due to new social distancing guidelines. The same goes for hotels which were already seeing cheap room rentals before the outbreak. With efforts being redirected to ensure health and sanitation standards, as well as the automation of various processes, shiny new amenities will probably be pretty far down the list for most businesses.
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