As many as 100 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, and the massive drop in export revenues from tourism could reduce global GDP by as much as 2.8 percent, according to a brief on the impact of the novel coronavirus on tourism released by the United Nations (UN) secretary-general.
As part of the wider UN response to Covid-19, Antonio Guterres released the thematic brief on Tuesday. It draws on the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the lead author of the publication.
It stresses that tourism is an essential pillar of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the most vulnerable workers and nations are at the greatest risk.
Tourism has been among the hardest hit of all sectors by Covid-19 and no country has been unaffected; with restrictions on travel and a sudden drop in consumer demand leading to an unprecedented fall in international tourist numbers.
The "Covid-19 and Transforming Tourism" policy brief from Guterres makes clear the impact that the pandemic has had on global tourism, and how this affects everything from jobs and economies to wildlife conservation and the protection of cultural heritage.
Guterres said the tourism sector must be rebuilt in a "safe, equitable and climate-friendly" manner, ensuring, "tourism regains its position as a provider of decent jobs, stable incomes and the protection of our cultural and natural heritage."
The UN secretary-general further underscored that tourism is one of the world's most important economic sectors, providing livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people while it "boosts economies and enables countries to thrive" and at the same time allows, "people to experience some of the world's cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other; highlighting our common humanity."
The brief warns that the impacts of the pandemic on tourism are already placing conservation efforts in jeopardy.
Citing case studies from around the world, it warns that the sudden fall in tourism revenues has cut off funding for biodiversity conservation and, with livelihoods at risk in and around protected areas, cases of poaching and looting are expected to rise.
Again, the impact on biodiversity and ecosystems will be particularly critical in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Furthermore, with 90 percent of World Heritage Sites having closed as a result of the pandemic, both tangible and intangible heritage is at risk in all parts of the world.
Five-point priorities to move forward
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said tourism touches on nearly every part of our societies and is a cornerstone of growth and employment both in developed and developing economies.
"The United Nations secretary-general echoes the five key priority areas that the UNWTO has identified for tourism to return and drive wider recovery, and both governments and the private sector now have a duty to put this plan into action," he said.
The policy brief notes that women, youths, and workers in the informal economy are most at risk of job losses and business closures across the tourism sector.
At the same time, destinations most reliant on tourism for jobs and economic growth, including SIDS and LDCs, are likely to be the hardest hit, including through an anticipated fall in foreign direct investment.
In addition to calling for strong support for the sector in mitigating these massive impacts, the brief stresses that this crisis represents an opportunity to rethink tourism, including how it contributes to the SDGs.
To this end, the policy brief provides five priorities for the restart of tourism, all aimed at ensuring a more resilient, inclusive and carbon neutral sector. These priorities include: mitigating socio-economic impacts on livelihoods, particularly women's employment and economic security; boosting competitiveness and building resilience, including through economic diversification and encouragement of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); advancing innovation and the digital transformation of tourism; fostering sustainability and green growth; and enhancing focus on coordination and responsible leadership.
Alongside the penholder UNWTO, a further 11 UN agencies contributed to the policy brief, highlighting the sector's unique importance and outreach.