Around 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of some countries, 20% of the nonfinance-related services industry workforce in some others, a status symbol and a perfect tool to turn your country into a brand everywhere. Rule of thumb: 1 in 10 jobs globally are either within or dependent on the tourism sector.
Now picture this: Even during the normal times, a GDP decline of 1% to 2% is seen as alarming whereas an annual rise of 6% is regarded as winning the jackpot. Due to the recent global measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic, almost all economic sectors were hit hard, but take away the tourism and hospitality industry revenue, and we arrive at "double trouble."
So, exactly at this time in history, a completely unprecedented one for that matter, when each and every nation should once again prepare to welcome foreign travelers, many countries are resorting to a different strategy: Promote domestic tourism and tell citizens they better stay home (again). But what they overlook is that if all other nations retaliate, no one will visit your own country either. Result: putting up the mental drawbridges, suggesting international travel is bad and asking citizens to vacation at home. Granted, they say this will only last this summer season, but who can guarantee that a short-sighted trend might not turn into a long-term menace?
What about lockdowns?
Most states around the world resorted to imposing some form of lockdown or curfew to limit the spread of the fatal pandemic COVID-19 between February and June this year. However, if quarantining entire regions or even complete countries was actually the real virus killer remains to be seen – with hindsight, everyone knows so much more, and quite naturally, politicians and civil society now question the wisdom behind these measures.
In comparison, some argue that social distancing was and is the major contributor to halting the spread of the coronavirus. And then there is another school of thought putting forward the case for herd immunity as the best cure, so to speak. It seems that confusion is the new normal.
This analysis, however, is no piece of medical writing as this is best left to the experts. What the article is all about is the related virus fall-out: catastrophic economic freefalls threatening the very way our nations operate and create prosperity. And although hopping on a jet plane is perhaps not the most pressing leisurely pursuit agenda item on everyone’s mind post-COVID-19 it is nevertheless part and parcel of the 21st-century reality – reality for almost all of us courtesy of budget airlines allowing ordinary citizens to reach corners of the globe previously only reserved for the lucky few, i.e. the well-to-do people. Seeing the world has become comparable to a human right. Exploring far-off countries a tool to broaden one's horizon or taking a gap-year spent working and traveling sandwiched between high school graduation and starting university is no longer seen as something extraordinary.
And, most importantly, traveling is a revenue generator of massive proportions. It creates jobs and income, and not just for those working in a hospitality enterprise. Think construction sector, consider furniture makers. The list goes on and on. It is not uncommon that, for example, 10,000 men and women find employment directly at an international airport somewhere in Europe but that four times that number benefits from its very existence as suppliers, contractors or service providers, including cabbies and shuttle bus operators.
Safer than before
With Turkey readying herself for what can still become a very successful summer season, and judging by preparations as announced by most major airlines here and abroad, their post-pandemic approach will result in a very safe form of traveling with additional hygiene and cleaning measures put in place. The same can be said for hotels as rooms will be more thoroughly cleaned after each checkout, real glasses or china will be replaced by disposable items and even television remote controls could be covered in disposable plastic holders. There will be regular inspections including by "mystery guests."
As a matter of fact, many global travelers had felt rather uneasy about levels of hygiene in hotels anyway – it had become all but standard to bring along ones’ own slippers and shampoo and for sure double-check the cleanliness of bed linen and pillows.
Hence, here in Turkey and everywhere else something positive might emerge from all of this: When going on a trip, we will simply watch out for things that look odd, in other words, dirty or unhygienic. We will eventually reward those hospitality operators who fully embrace the new normal – a new normal as in making certain guests onboard and on the ground feel safe.
As I've said, if all countries declare cross-border or cross-continent tourism is no longer advisable – even if only for a year – most hospitality sector businesses will go out of business. Let us put this hypothesis into perspective: Some tourism destinations make up to 90% of their revenue from non-local and non-domestic guests. It sounds all too easy to simply declare that we all holiday now at home and that as every citizen in every country around the world does the same, the occupancy rates would remain stable, too.
Nothing could be further from the modern traveler’s truth. Someone who previously agreed to invest 1,000 euros ($1,140) for a two-week holiday under the sun in another country will not pay the same amount for a holiday 200 kilometers down the road even if quality and comfort are of a comparable level. It is a serious nonstarter.
Besides, finding a vaccine for COVID-19 has become a global undertaking, and one day in the near future it shall be here.
If, however, in the meantime traveling overseas has been reduced to minimal levels and thus has led to serious increases in prices, once again only the wealthy elite will be able to avail themselves plane tickets and hotel accommodation.
This in turn might lead to a new form of "soft" nationalism in the sense that the outside world is bad, that going abroad is bad and ultimately, that those foreigners among us are in the wrong place, too. Our politicians must look ahead and engage in foresight analysis instead of conducting merely day-to-day policymaking.
We as citizens must do our bit, too: Stay safe and healthy, maintain social distance where required, reevaluate whether your personal hygiene and cleanliness provisions are adequate, and yes indeed, once the waterways and train tracks and roads and skies are open again, pack our bags and meet with friendly folk from all four corners of the world. Rest assured that in return, they will visit our very own proud nations, too.
Meet and share and learn from each other, engage in sustainable tourism, show respect to nature and the environment – and please do not forget to treat people in the hospitality sector with respect, too.
* Political analyst, journalist based in London