Currently, the world is all sat in a waiting room of sorts, eagerly awaiting the green light of free movement to be switched on while simultaneously glaring at the receptionist who’s so far refused to acknowledge we’re here, or that we’re well-past our appointment time.
With the worry of COVID-19 on our shoulders and the frustration of its imposition on our everyday lives, it’s little wonder we’re collectively daydreaming of sandy shores and sandal-appropriate weather. Not only that, but we now have the added pressure of juggling our newly-amalgamated domestic and work lives. Our valiant attempts to work while our children find new and ingenious ways of testing our patience is no easy feat.
Of course, many people are dealing with much harder circumstances than simple disruption to their routines. For some, this crisis has been cataclysmic at both a personal and industrial level, bringing to the forefront not only how interconnected we all are but how vital each role we play is too.
Undoubtedly, one of the hardest-hit industries is travel and tourism, with its core ways of operating being obliterated almost overnight. The consequences of this, however, are far more intricate than just the worldwide economic loss, it’s also heavily impacting people at a micro-level in terms of employment.
ILTM’s 2020 white paper which focused on the Global Luxury Travel Universe discovered that across the top 50 most visited nations, 105.9m people were directly employed by the travel and tourism industry. These are people who run hotels, work in travel agencies and manage our flights, people for whom travel restrictions are far costlier than missing a trip.
Amid this crisis then, the value of the travel and tourism industry has come into increasingly sharp focus. Its undeniable role within communities and countries can no longer be downplayed as merely a second string to superior economic contributors. If we consider Italy as an example, one of the countries hit hardest by this crisis, the necessity of travel and tourism to its economic health is unquestionable, not only broadly but for individuals too. As the fifth most visited country in the world, recorded at close to 59m visitors a year, Italy’s symbiotic relationship with the tourism industry is no secret. Putting aside tourism-related industries like food and drink or sporting events, Italy’s prime benefit from tourism is through direct employment. Of those who are employed in Italy, which stands at 23.4m, a significant 1.54m are directly employed in travel and tourism.
The Philippines is yet another stark instance of this trend. Ranking 48th in the world for international visitors and welcoming a substantial 6.6m each year, travel and tourism is easily one of the most prolific sectors it has and generates an estimated 25% of GDP. Compared to its next largest sector, being the financial industry, the GDP contribution attained there is significantly lower at only 15.4%. Even more tellingly, however, is that a 2018 study revealed that there was an estimated 13% of the Philippines’ population, roughly 5.5m, who relied on travel and tourism for employment.
Italy and the Philippines are just two examples of travel and tourism’s role in employment, but many more exist. Recent employment data suggest that other countries within the top 20 countries in the global top 50 most visited destinations are just as reliant on this global employer, including Croatia, Greece, Portugal and Spain. It’s estimated that Croatia for example, is second only to the Philippines within these top 20 countries and has 12.5% of its population directly employed within the travel and tourism sector as you can see in ILTM’s 2020 white paper.
The figures from all over the world then indicate that travel and tourism is a formidable friend to employment. This global employer is the cornerstone to many livelihoods, and without it, there are vast swathes of people without income or a clear path for the future. As it stands, an *ITUC survey that considered 82 countries (including fifteen G20 countries) have found that 82% of them have implemented travel bans that, while necessary, have choked the lifeblood of many individuals who are employed within this industry.
Further, the domino effect of these travel bans on employment doesn’t only touch those who are directly involved within it. As ILTM have highlighted recently, there is also an associated Global Luxury Travel Ecosystem that, while not as significant in terms of contributions, still has a relative role to play. The restaurant owners, wellness instructors and museum staff, not to mention countless others, will also, to lesser extents, feel the bite of travel and tourism having its wings clipped.
COVID-19 has touched us all in one form or another. For some, the disruptions are an annoyance, for others, disastrous. As for the travel and tourism industry, it has been a swift right hook from nowhere and the hits seemingly keep coming. Now, some weeks on from the initial worldwide alarm being sounded, we’re all left wondering when this odd stalemate with nature will end.
Until then, we all remain in the waiting room together. As we do though it’s worth remembering that necessity is the mother of invention and if we’ve learnt anything at all in this strange interlude it’s that we need travel and tourism back to being the global employer it has shown itself to be. How and when we get there is still up for debate, but get there we will and when we do it will be with more knowledge, more pride and more power than ever before. Travel advisers and fellow wanderers, keep a weather eye on the horizon.
* International Trade Union Confederation