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Gloria Guevara, CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said that "this will be a strong summer for travel to Europe - including inbound travel."
Speaking at a webinar organized by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), she called on governments to move in a coordinated way to enable "mobility" through consistent testing and documentation requirements. One method, she said, would be to focus on "individual risk assessment" rather than institute bans based on national risk assessment - "painting entire countries with the same brush."
Countries should have an exit strategy for relaunching travel, said Guevara, as the U.K. has done in setting May 17 as a tentative date for opening the country's borders, pending the situation with the pandemic at that time. If other countries ease or remove restrictions, that should open the way for Europe's recovery by summer. "The policies of the U.S. government will be critical in this," she said.
The industry, said Guevara, will have to "co-exist with the virus" because "it isn't going anywhere." She said, "We have to be smart, use technology and work together to implement solutions that allow for mobility." Guevara said research shows that the travel industry in any destination takes the longest to recover from political instability with outbreaks of diseases taking the second-longest time for recovery.
The goal of WTTC's plan, said Guevara, is to have a "V-shaped" rapid recovery as happened after the financial crisis of 2008-9 rather than the slower "U-shaped" recovery after 9-11, which took several years. She said what is necessary for that to happen are:
-Coordination: the need for countries to work together because "travel is not isolated."
-A focus on individual risk assessment rather than national risk assessment. "We can't base decisions on entire countries," she said.
-Reinforcing health and safety protocols like mask-wearing and vaccinations. Vaccinations are "a game changer," said Guevara, but they're not enough.
-Support for the travel and tourism sector, including protection for workers and the need for an "exit strategy" - a plan to re-launch travel.
Guevara said the travel and tourism industry lost 174 million jobs globally in the pandemic and that WTTC has introduced a plan to recover 100 million of those jobs. She said that leaders at the last G20 summit of major countries focused for the first time on the private travel and tourism sector.
Looking ahead, Guevera said the ideal approach would be to be for private companies and governments to be transparent, to focus on individual rather than national risk assessment, consider methods to remove quarantines and work towards a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Also key to the future, said Guevara, is some kind of consistency among health passes. She differentiated between health passports, which include extensive personal health history and present issues of privacy, and health passes, which only contain information relevant to a specific trip - like vaccines or testing. WTTC does not support a requirement for health passports.
She said there are many good health passes and apps available and that no one of them would become universal. However, she said they should work with each other. At some point, said Guevara, governments should endorse specific health passes to facilitate travel. She also said countries should consider options like "pool testing" - for example, just testing one person in a family of four.
"It will be impossible to guarantee zero risk," said Guevara, "but you can manage risk by informing the traveler." For now, for instance, vaccinated travelers might still need to be tested because they might carry the virus. In the future, she hopes that is not the case. She said only those who actually test positive should need to quarantine.
Guevara said Australia has done well in controlling COVID-19 by closing its borders but that it's not an acceptable option for many other countries. "You cannot stay closed for too long a time," she said, "because then reopening will take longer and be more painful."
She said the path forward should involve vaccinations, especially for seniors and the vulnerable; encouraging international mobility through testing and contract tracing, and continuing with health protocols as long as it is necessary. Digital solutions will enable much of this, she said, as is the case with the increasing use of biometrics for security.
Travel will not be the same after the pandemic, said Guevara, who asserted, "We are not going back to 2019; we are moving forward."
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer for TravelPulse and AGENT@HOME magazine.
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