- The ever-growing tourism sector is facing a current decline of 60%, a number which could potentially increase to 80% if recovery is delayed until December 2020, according to the OECD.
- The worst affected countries during the COVID-19 crisis have been those positioned on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea, accounting for a third of the income of international tourism.
2 October 2020. Tourism being one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is more than ever required to adapt to the new normality. Which solutions is the sector offering to ensure a safe and accessible tourism for all citizens? To discuss this, the Union for the Mediterranean gathered stakeholders from the public and private sector, including local tourism entities, tourism experts and representatives from national and international organizations in the UfM Webinar “COVID-19 and the Tourism Sector: “Inclusive response to vulnerable groups in the Euro-Mediterranean Region”.
In the context of accessibility and inclusivity, the online event discussed how the sector is shoring up for safe travel, especially for vulnerable groups and which mechanisms are being implemented by air transport associations, national tourism authorities and the hospitality sector. Moreover, there was a prominence on which role the hospitality sector has been playing in alleviating hardships and repairing lives within local communities, despite the unprecedented existential crisis they are encountering. Faced with the pandemic, all travellers need healthy and safe protocols to feel confident enough to travel particularly those with underlying chronic health issues, pregnant women, senior citizens or people with disabilities.
Marisa Farrugia, UfM Deputy Secretary General for Social & Civil Affairs opened the webinar highlighting that: We all acknowledge that tourism, as an industry, probably more than other industries, is an essential contributor for socio-economic growth, innovation and job creation. But we need to bear in mind that the economic aspect cannot be fully sustained unless we take care of those who may fall behind because of their vulnerability. How can the tourism travel and hospitality industries show to be the guardian of social justice, by ensuring that vulnerable communities are not neglected?
The first session focused on safe and healthy travel, discussing mechanisms that could ensure an inclusive and sustainable future for the sector. The speakers underlined the importance of ensuring that these safety protocols do not become another barrier for people with disabilities. It was also mentioned that there is not so much a shortage of guidelines or implementation of safety measures by the private sector but rather a general uncertainty and lack of coordination between countries and regions. The session concluded with the assertion that tourism is a crucial part of the economy and the key to the sector’s recovery will only come from cooperation, collaboration and partnership.
The second part of the webinar brought together stakeholders from the hospitality sector. They shared best practices on how the hospitality industry had offered solutions to vulnerable groups, particularly to the homeless, to the front liner health workers, or the domestically abused on how this sector was adapting to the still unknown new reality. Speakers focused not only on entrepreneurs and beneficiaries but also on the employees, who had either lost their jobs due to the C-19 or were on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic. The main outcome of this session was the realization that one can turn a liability into an asset, a challenge into an opportunity, and that a crisis may serve as an occasion to rebuild a better and more humane industry. The overall notion by the speakers was that the sector’s objective remains that of continuously serving and helping others, even in times of recession. A common perspective was shared between all speakers and participants that the travel and hospitality sectors during Covid-19 led national authorities, private sectors, cooperatives or organisations to reflect, redefine and redevelop tourism for a more inclusive and diverse industry. The crisis has created an awareness on the needs for the vulnerable populations bound by certain barriers or restrictions which deserve the strongest efforts by policy makers and stakeholders to be overcome. Tourism remains an essential sector which socially and economically it has the potential to serve as a tool for inclusive change in the Euro-Mediterranean.