How Countries Are Coping With A Tanking Tourism Industry
From Bali to Mexico and everywhere in between, countries that have come to rely on a steady stream of tourism revenue are experiencing serious fallout from the pandemic.
Through 2019, international tourism was soaring. Lower plane ticket prices and rising incomes in many developing countries had created a new class of globetrotters, and as far as anyone could tell, it was sky's the limit for the travel industry.
That, of course, was before the coronavirus pandemic, which from one day to the next kept people confined not just to their home countries, but to their homes and neighborhoods. Paradoxically, quarantine has made some of the world's tourist hotspots even more desirable, with empty streets, uncrowded public transportation and famous museums and other attractions with no wait time.
But what about the businesses — and even whole nations — that rely on these visitors, and their wallets? Here's how seven countries around the world are managing without their normal influx of foreigners, and searching for new ways to climb out of the crisis.
Minus the almost 22 million annual overseas visitors flooding London, the capital city's economy is expected to decrease 17% this year. Even the Tower of London's famous Beefeaters may be facing job cuts, perhaps for the first time since King Henry VII formed the elite unit of royal guards in 1485.
On the other hand, holiday parks within the UK are booming, with Brits looking for a change of scenery as tent, caravan and other lodging accommodations begin reopening. As Andrew Campbell, chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance, told the BBC: "People just wanted to get out and come to Wales. You can feel the joy, it's radiating off them."
While the Scottish Highlands are beginning to see a rise in tourists again, limited passenger numbers on ferries to increase social distancing is impacting tourism to Scotland's Isles. On the Isle of Arran, 1,500 tourism-related jobs are threatened. But others are taking a different approach to protect their communities.
Resorts and archeological sites began reopening in Egypt at the beginning of July, hoping to revive an industry that accounts for 15% of the country's economy. Tourism also took a strong hit following Egypt's 2011 revolution, but eventually made a comeback, with 21% growth in 2019 and more than 13.5 million vacationers.
The country is easing tourist visa requirements and offering flight deals to attract travelers from Europe to popular Nile river cruises and beach town resorts. As Ashraf Nasr, who has offered camel rides for 25 years, told the BBC: "It's been so hard for everyone. We've spent four months at home. Each camel needs 100 Egyptian pounds ($6) a day for food."
Others are hoping that the pandemic will encourage "community tourism," with Egyptians traveling locally and in an ethical and ecologically responsible manner.
Deserted beach on the Canary holiday island Gran Canaria, Spain — Photo: Xamax/DPA/ZUMA
Normally a popular backpacker destination, the Indonesian island of Bali is only opening its beaches and temples to locals, and not until the end of the month. Foreign tourists won't be invited back in until mid September. There is hope, in the meantime, that an increase in the Chinese market will help revive Bali. Others are encouraging more sustainable, small-scale tourism. Rather than coming just to party, they want visitors to enjoy authentic cultural and environmental "experiences."
Around 6 million tourists visit Bali each summer to surf, explore the natural wonders and connect with its strong Hindu religious traditions. Over the past decades, Bali has also worked to become a tourist destination in the Muslim majority Indonesia, but with 80% of revenue connected to tourism, the economy is now in free fall.
Thousands of yoga instructors, spa workers and others whose income relies on tourism are shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle. Returning to their home villages in northern Bali, many are taking up farming — often in Bali's many rice fields — or fishing, along its empty beaches.
Tourism in Mexico has been the bedrock for 11 million jobs, typically accounting for nearly 9% of Mexico's GDP.
In Yucatan state, a popular tourist destination, an overnight curfew has been imposed, with alcohol banned and marinas closed. Recently, authorities in the Caribbean beach resort of Tulum threatened to issue fines of up to 9,250 pesos ($413) or even arrest people for disobeying rules on wearing face masks, the Mexican news outlet PalcoNoticias reported.
The good news, however, is that Cancun was the first destination in the Americas and one of the first few in the world to receive the "Safe Travels' global safety and hygiene stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council. This indicates that the destination has "implemented the new safety measures for travelers that WTTC has recognized and approved," said Quintana Roo Governor Carlos Joaquín González inTravel and Leisure.
A tourist in front of the Tower of London— Photo: Vickie Flores/London News Pictures/ZUMA
The worldwide coronavirus travel restrictions have weakened Spanish tourism, the country's leading economic sector. At the end of 2015, domestic and international tourism in Spain was estimated to bring in up to 5% of the country's overall GDP and sustained more than 2 million jobs. In Spain, the summer season has started and tourist homes are so far only about 35% full. The figure is far from the 85% occupation rate registered just a year ago.
The Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands are the destinations hardest hit by the pandemic. Due to their dependence on air travel and the massive absence of tourists (mainly English, German and Scandinavian), they anticipate the worst summer in history.
The Spanish island of Mallorca has closed its main party strip after drunken tourists were seen cavorting without masks, jumping on cars and chanting aggressively on the streets of a resort town, the localDiario de Mallorca newspaper reported last week. All of the bars on Punta Ballena street were closed because the "mainly British tourists there, and the bar operators themselves," were not complying with the rules, a spokesman for the Balearics regional government told CNN.
The regional government is not very optimistic, and imagines that even in a best-case scenario, they can only expect a recovery of 60% at the end of the year.
A certain confusion and a scent of scandal surround the "Go To Travel" campaign, which Japan launched on July 22 to support its pandemic-battered tourism industry. The initiative aims to "meet the demands of a struggling sector," said Deputy Tourism Minister Masamune Wada.
Within this framework, the government covers half of the cost of a stay up to the limit of 20,000 yen ($187) per person per day. And 30% of the refund comes in the form of coupons redeemable at restaurants, amusement parks or souvenir shops. The operation is expected to last until spring 2021 and cost 1.3 trillion yen (upwards of $12 billion), according to the French daily Le Monde.
The initiative is being questioned because of the high cost, but also because of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections, mainly in Tokyo, where more than 200 cases have been detected almost daily since July 9.
As reported byThe Times, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea has taken a novel approach to maintaining social distancing among tourists by hiring a troupe of knights on horseback. In full medieval regalia, knights from a re-enactment group greet tourists arriving at the Gotland island ferry terminal. Keep thou distance ye tourists!
"During the week we will go on the beach and around the city to tourist sites," Dennis Norrthon of the Torneamentum society, which normally puts on jousting tournaments for visitors, told the London daily.