Oceania

Update on the collapse of travel and tourism in response to COVID-19

In a post from April 30, I provided information on the importance of travel and tourism to the global economy and the sharp contraction flowing from national efforts to stem the growth in COVID-19 infections. Travel restrictions, stay at home orders and other actions have seriously limited travel and tourism in recent months and will likely continue to do so for at least several more months going forward.

A series of documents from the World Travel & Tourism Council provide an overview of the importance of the sector to various geographic areas of the world in 2019, what had been growth projections to 2030 and the projected job losses in the sector for 2020 because of the pandemic.

In 2019, some 330 million jobs were in the travel and tourism sector globally or one in ten jobs. Travel and tourism in 2019 accounted for 10.3% of the global economy with higher growth rate versus the total global economy (3.5% vs. 2.5%). The COVID-19 pandemic is projected to cost the world 100.8 million jobs in 2020, a loss of 31% from 2019. The loss in global GDP is projected at $2.7 trillion. Truly staggering projected losses from the pandemic are hitting countries and territories around the world.

EIR_Global_Economic_Impact_from_COVID_19_Infographic

The percent of total GDP and total employment in a region was highest in 2019 for the Caribbean at 13.9% and 15.2% respectively, followed by South East Asia at 12.1% and 13.3%, Oceania at 11.7% and 12.6%, North East Asia at 9.8% and 10.0%, the European Union at 9.5% and 11.2%, North America at 8.8% and 11.1%, North Africa at 8.5% and 9.3%, the Middle East at 8.6% and 8.8%, with other areas somewhat lower. International travel and tourism in 2019 was 28.7% of the total with domestic being 71.3%; 21.4% of expenditures were by business travelers with the remaining 78.6% being leisure travel and tourism. 179.7 million jobs in travel and tourism were in Asia in 2019, 37.1 million in Europe, 45.4 million in the Americas, 24.6 million in Africa and 6.7 million in the Middle East.

Projections for 2030 (before the pandemic) were for travel and tourism to capture 11.3% of global GDP and increase employment to 425 million jobs. Depending on the damage from the pandemic and the recovery time , presumably the effects through 2030 will show much smaller employment numbers and a smaller percent of GDP going to travel and tourism.

EIR2020-importance-of-travel-infographics.indd_

While travel and tourism expenditures reflect the size of the overall economy in terms of total dollars, the fastest growth is often in smaller countries, including island countries and territories.

EIR-global-infographic-2020-v2

As seen in these data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, the growth of travel and tourism as a sector in 2019 exceeded growth rates in healthcare, retail and wholesale, agriculture, construction and manufacturing while lagging just information and communications and financial services. Moreover, travel and tourism effect other sectors of the economy when expanding or when contracting. The challenges facing companies like Boeing and Airbus at a time when most commercial fleets are largely not operating would be one obvious example.

For there to be a rapid return to economic growth in many parts of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, all countries will need a return to the use of restaurants, hotels, transportation services, entertainment venues and other elements of the travel and tourism sector.

With the enormous losses being suffered by the sector and the large part of the sector populated by small- and medium-size businesses, many countries are likely to find far fewer travel and tourism businesses operating in the coming months than was true in 2019 even after reopening. Governments in various countries are working to provide financial support to workers and businesses, but it unclear how many businesses will nonetheless go out of business and how many jobs will be lost even after reopening. This is complicated by the social distancing requirements that are either recommended or required by countries who are starting to open up (or in the United States, in the states that are starting to reopen). For example, restaurants typically operate on small margins. Requirements to limit seating to half of capacity (or worse depending on density of current seating arrangements) to be able to implement social distancing recommendations in restaurants could make operating many restaurants uneconomic going forward.

Moreover, for many consumers and businesses, travel and tourism activities will likely be greatly curtailed pending development and distribution to the world’s population of an effective vaccine. This is regardless of government actions to reopen economies and flows from the understandable concern for many people about enjoying normal life when the invisible enemy has no cure. While there are substantial efforts by pharmaceutical companies and government researchers to achieve an unusually quick breakthrough, 2021 is a very optimistic timeline. Whatever the timeline actually is will determine when the travel and tourism sector is able to fully help in rebuilding economic momentum around the world.

From a trade policy perspective, governments can reduce the costs to the state and local governments and to businesses and consumers by keeping markets open, lowering duties, expediting customs clearance and working to expand production of medical goods to eliminate the gap in global supply during periods of peak demand. The latter is the only realistic answer to temporary export restraints by countries who find themselves in a situation of surging infection rates and inadequate supplies where they are significant domestic producers. Moreover, with a second wave of the pandemic possible in the fall/winter, a global ramp up of capacity and production of needed supplies and creation of regional inventories is a need if the world is to avoid further trade disruptions from the pandemic coming back later this year.

Other actions by governments such as stimulus programs and safety net projects, reinforcing healthcare infrastructure, ramping up testing, tracing and quarantining, and addressing the financial needs of developing and least developed countries are all being pursued to some extent by international organizations and by individual countries, though the stress on the global economy complicates the extent of some of these efforts going forward.

Conclusion

The pandemic is projected to result in the loss of more than 100 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector in 2020 – a staggering situation and certainly among the most difficult of the global challenges to economies from COVID-19. The reality will be that travel and tourism will trail other parts of the global economy in rebounding as economies are reopened absent an effective vaccine which in all likelihood is a year or more (at a minimum) away. Governments and international organizations need to focus on steps which can reduce the challenges for the sector in the coming months. The UN World Tourism Organization has prepared a series of recommendation that were reviewed in my earlier post. They are a good starting point.