Travel in times of corona
Global tourism has been booming for a while now. More and more people around the world are able to travel to other continents and discover new places faraway. It’s not just Europeans, Americans or Japanese tourist groups anymore on the streets of Paris or climbing Machu Picchu but also Chinese, Indian and Brazilian ones. Nothing seemed to be standing in Tourism’s way. In 2019, one of our main worries was ‘overtourism’. Cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam were overrun and locals were complaining about rising housing prices and their cities turning into some kind of Disneyland.
Along came 2020 and the coronavirus. First, it just meant less Chinese were traveling to tourism destinations, which still had a limited and manageable impact for most destinations. Then there was the ‘Corona-cruise’ in quarantine in a Japanese port, and the first infected tourists who brought it back to their home countries. Dark clouds were quickly gathering in the blue Global Tourism sky.
Probably the world’s most popular tourist destination, Italy, detected and isolated its first coronavirus cases on January 29. Six weeks later the entire country is in lockdown and more than 1000 persons have died. Tourists who caught the virus while they were on holiday in Italy spread it to the rest of Europe and the world. In the US, returning cruise ship travelers who were unaware they were infected, started several clusters in different parts of the US.
Mid-March, most museums, theaters, restaurants and bars are closed in Europe and soon in North America. Many countries have closed their borders or have imposed travel bans on travelers from certain destinations. Corona has arrived to Latin America. Several airlines fear for bankruptcy and have already started firing employees. The streets of Venice, Madrid and Paris are deserted. Travel plans and with it tours, hotels and flights are being cancelled for the foreseeable future. It seems that international tourism is both the main perpetrator and the main victim of this crisis.
What can travelers do right now?
For now, as long as this pandemic is not under control, stay home! Don’t travel! This might seem weird coming from a person making a living from tourism, but we need all of us to beat this together. As Dr. Georgine Nanos, board-certified physician and CEO of Kind Health group in California told Forbes: “It’s important that we all follow Public Health warnings not just for our own safety but for the safety of others, particularly the people who are most vulnerable and who can develop potentially life-threatening complications from this virus should they contract it. THAT is the point of these containment measures, and the fact that anyone continues to put these people at risk simply to travel for their own pleasure right now is mind-boggling to me.” Or in the words of a recently published article in Newsweek, “Young and unafraid of the coronavirus? Good for you. Now stop killing people!”
What can we as tourism professionals do?
We should talk about the risks of the coronavirus to our followers on social media and on our websites by explaining them that they should stay home now to avoid putting others at risk and making the situation worse. Instead of encouraging them to travel now, we can encourage them to dream and distract them with some positive thoughts. We can for instance post photos of our tours, hotels, destinations and give them something to look forward to and plan for.
It might be temporarily bad for our businesses but we should put the general interest first now. If we are unable to contain the spread, not only many more people will die but the economic impact, including on our businesses, will also be much worse. Tourists might stay away much longer. Many businesses will have to close and jobs will be lost. Therefore, we should do everything in our power to make sure people follow Public Health precautions and not travel as long as necessary.
What can travelers do to help small tourism businesses during corona?
While you can’t travel at the moment and it’s a bit hard to plan in advance and book tours for the next few months (or even more…), there are still a few things you can do. You can write that review you wanted to write right after your trip but forgot about, on Tripadvisor, Facebook, Yelp, etc. This will help these businesses in the future to reach more people and hopefully bounce back from this crisis. If you haven’t been on a tour with them yet, you can follow their Instagram or Facebook pages (or Twitter, YouTube, …) and like their posts. You can also invite your friends to do the same.
Some businesses, not only tourism related, rely on cash flow. If they have gift vouchers, you could buy one to use later or as a present. If you have to cancel a tour from a small tourism business or a stay at a family hotel, you could not ask for a refund, but reschedule for later (for an indefinite date).
What can travelers do to help small tourism businesses after corona?
We will all appreciate normal daily life and our freedoms more than we did before, at least for a while. When this is over, let’s all go out and eat more often at the local restaurants and have drinks with friends at the local cafes and bars. Let’s all appreciate again our freedom to travel and not take it for granted anymore, as most of us have done for a while now.
Book holidays at your local travel agency. Book tours online with small and local tour operators or larger tour operators who focus on sustainability and responsible travel and work with local guides, family hotels and local tour operators. Book a night in a family hotel, a Bed and Breakfast or a local, small-scale eco-lodge. Tip your guides, waiters, drivers more than you did before as they have probably not had any income for a few months.
Let’s all focus first on beating this virus and minimizing the number of victims. Let’s do whatever it takes. After that, local businesses will need all of our support to make sure the public health crisis doesn’t also become a personal economic tragedy for them.