INTERNATIONAL. Governments have put too much emphasis on saving lives and not enough on safeguarding their economies during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the UN’s tourism chief.

UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, posting on his organisation’s website, said: “As UNWTO has said from the start of this crisis, governments have a duty to put the health of their citizens first. However, they also have a responsibility to protect businesses and livelihoods.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili: “Tourism has a long history of adapting and responding to challenges head-on”

“For too long, and in too many places, the emphasis has overly-focused on the former. And we are now paying the price. It doesn’t have to be this way. As a sector, tourism has a long history of adapting and responding to challenges head-on.”

Pololikashvili called for “strong, clear and consistent messages” to help international tourism recover and for leaders to act to encourage travel again.

He pointed out that between January and May, the collapse in tourist arrivals cost an estimated US$320 billion, three times greater than the impact of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

He said: “The re-opening of borders to tourism is a welcome relief to millions who depend on our sector. But this alone is not enough, especially in view of recent announcements and measures which seem further and further away from the international coordination that UNWTO has been calling for since the pandemic erupted.”

“Businesses and services have put protocols in place and adapted their operations. Now it’s time for those making the political decisions to close the gaps, so that we all can advance together.” – UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

Pololikashvili called for unity and co-ordinated action to overcome the pandemic’s challenges. He continued: “Those in positions of leadership and influence have recognised the importance of tourism for jobs, economies and rebuilding trust. This is only the first step. Now, they must do everything they can to get people travelling again, following and implementing all the protocols which are part of the new reality.”

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Pololikashvili argued that global tourism has led the way in implementing solutions to adapt to the new reality. A vaccine could still be many months away but rapid and rigorous testing at ports and airports, and tracing and tracking apps could drive the safe restart of tourism.

“These solutions need to be fully embraced, not just cautiously explored,” he said. “To delay will be a catastrophe and risk undoing all the progress we have made to establish tourism as a true pillar of sustainable and inclusive development.

“Moreover, it will be the most vulnerable members of our societies who will be hit the hardest as those most shielded from the economic and social consequences of tourism’s standstill urge continued caution.

“Short-sighted unilateral actions will have devastating consequences in the long run. By and large, people have learned how to behave in a responsible way. Businesses and services have put protocols in place and adapted their operations. Now it’s time for those making the political decisions to close the gaps, so that we all can advance together.”

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