WTTC unveils health & safety protocols to re-establish confidence in travel

Otopeni, Romania - February 25, 2020: People wearing protective suits spray disinfectant chemicals on the Henri Coanda International Airport to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus.

A range of worldwide measures to restart travel and tourism with confidence have been unveiled by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The new set of guidelines, coined the ‘Safe Travels’ protocols, have been crafted to rebuild confidence among consumers, and provide consistency for the full suite of industries that make up the travel and tourism sector, on the new approach to health and hygiene in the post-COVID-19 world.

It comes in a bid by the private sector’s peak tourism body to create an overarching industry health policy, following WHO and CDC guidelines, to avoid the emergence of multiple standards, a scenario that would “only delay the sector’s recovery”.

“We have learned from the past, especially after the tragedy of 9/11, where the lack of coordination among governments and with the private sector caused long-lasting travel disruption, higher costs and a longer recovery time,” WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara said.

“Coordination and alignment within the travel and tourism sector is vital to ensure that robust global measures are put in place to help rebuild confidence and which are jointly embraced by the governments and private sector.”

According to the council, the Safe Travels protocols were drawn up and endorsed by its members, including the likes of Hilton, Radisson Hospitality, Marriott International and InterContinental Hotels Group, and industry associations.

These include Airports Council International (ACI), the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“We are delighted that for the first time ever, the global private sector has aligned around these new Safe Travels protocols which will create consistency across the sector,” Guevara said.

“Now, we are calling on governments to adopt them so that they can be implemented globally and restore much-needed confidence in order to restart the travel and tourism sector.”

The WTTC said detailed discussions are now taking place with key stakeholders and organisations in each industry within the sector – including MICE – to ensure maximum buy-in, alignment and practical implementation, with hospitality and retail guidelines released on Tuesday.

“We see green shoots of hope emerging as our global community turns its attention toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” WTTC chairman and Hilton president and CEO Chris Nassetta said.

“But we know that travellers will only venture out into the world again when they feel it is safe to do so, making it critically important that we give them the confidence and peace of mind they need.

“The global protocols WTTC has laid out are designed to align the travel and tourism industry around consistent health and safety guidelines that will help protect travellers wherever their journey takes them.”

Tourists watch as an elephant crosses a river in the Chobe National Park in Botswana, Africa (iStock.com/Tiago_Fernandez)

The news comes just days after the world’s peak tourism body, the UNWTO, revealed tourism faces its worst crisis since records began, with as many as 1.1 billion fewer people travelling in 2020.

In Africa, where travel and tourism comprises 80 per cent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), this drastic downturn in travel could see the continent’s tourism sector (which represents 7.1 per cent of its GDP) “collapse”, taking with it the livelihoods of at least 24.6 million people.

“The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is being felt across the whole travel and tourism value chain,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

“The sector is particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, especially within vulnerable communities, supported by the sector.

“International financial support is key to ensuring that travel and tourism can lead to wider economic and social recovery in these communities.”

The UNWTO has now joined IATA, the WTTC, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) in an urgent appeal for support for the industry from international financial institutions, country development partners and international donors.

According to the WTTC, many countries lack the necessary resources to help the industry and the livelihoods of its airline, hotel, guesthouse, lodge, restaurant, meeting venue, SME and related business employees through the COVID-19 crisis.

“Travel and tourism is the backbone of many economies across Africa and its collapse will lead to hundreds of millions of livelihoods being impacted and enormous financial pressure for years to come,” Guevara said.

“Now, more than ever, it is vital that governments work together on a global coordinated approach towards a swift recovery and ongoing support for travel and tourism.

“It is critical that the most vulnerable communities receive international help.”

Moreover, there are fears from wholesalers, like Bench Africa, that the financial risks of the coronavirus pandemic could impact tourism-dependent community and conservation projects across the continent.

The WTTC, the UNWTO, IATA, the AFRAA and the AASA are now calling for $10 billion in relief to support the industry and help protect the livelihoods of those it supports directly and indirectly.

They’re also calling for access to as much grant-type financing and cash flow assistance as possible, and financial measures that can help minimise disruptions to much-needed credit and liquidity for businesses.

This includes the deferral of existing financial obligations or loan repayments; and ensuring that all funds flow down immediately to save the businesses that need them urgently, with minimal application processes and without impediment from normal lending considerations such as creditworthiness.

Featured image: iStock/CatEyePerspective

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