Nothing short of the continued support of governments and harmonized and recalibrated COVID-19 travel protocols are necessary to save the global travel industry in the present and secure its future, says a panel of prominent association presidents that includes ACTA Canada president Wendy Paradis.
Hosted last week by The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) on its Facebook page, the live panel event also featured representatives of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA), which collectively represent hundreds of thousands of people who work at travel agencies and related businesses around the world.
Broadly speaking, the association heads aimed to “link arms” to present a united front in calling for government leaders globally to align and make opening borders an immediate priority.
Citing World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) data from 2019 showing that travel and tourism was one of the world’s largest economic sectors, accounting for 10.4% of global GDP (US$9.2 trillion), 10.6% of all jobs (334 million), and responsible for creating one of every four new jobs across the world, the panel noted the “catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector – of which travel agencies, tour operators and other travel-reliant small businesses are a critical part.”
Among the group’s demands is standardized entry requirements regarding vaccine verification, testing, and other safeguards. This standardization is urgently needed, said ASTA’s Zane Kirby who says existing protocols are “unwieldy and untenable.”
“There’s a patchwork of constantly changing rules and regulations that depress demand, confuse the travelling public, and… can sometimes strand travellers,” he said, adding that the global travel industry must continue to come together to adds its voice to ask for more transparency from governments so that the industry can understand the rules and conditions imposed on travellers.
As an example, he pointed to current bans on American travellers in Europe, stating: “There are 175 million citizens of the United States who have been vaccinated, but right now around the world they are being treated as though they pose the same risk as travellers to foreign lands as those who are unvaccinated. And we think that needs to change. The threat level… needs to come up to where the science is, which is that you are far less likely to get or to spread the virus or be hospitalized (when vaccinated).
“They have to follow their own science,” he continued. “What they’ve told us for months and months is that vaccination makes life better and will allow you to return to activities that you love to do – especially travel. So, if that’s the case, there should be at least a two-tier system of threat analysis. The diagnostic equipment that governments have now has to change and it has to get more sophisticated.
“Put a system in place that recognizes vaccination and allow those who are vaccinated to travel more freely!”
Paradis meanwhile lamented a particular Canadian conundrum involving mixed vaccine doses, which was encouraged in this country, but not accepted elsewhere, as needing resolution.
Kirby went on to declare that the travel industry continues to need “industry specific relief” from governments, a notion that the panel supported.
Noting that until August, Canada has had “some of the tightest restrictions in the world,” Paradis said that travel agency revenue across the country is down 90% compared to 2019 and that more than 65% of travel agents are currently furloughed. Moreover, she added, “We as travel agencies are for the most part shuttered until these international borders open up and blanket travel restrictions are eased… (And until) that happens, we are in critical need of continued financial aid.”
Pointing out that most government aid programs in Canada are slated to end in October, she added, “Clearly it does not make sense to reduce any aid programs for hardest-hit sectors like travel agencies. We are looking for grants (and subsidy programs); our industry is so in debt we cannot take on more debt… We need to survive so that we can recover! We need these aid programs to not only continue but be enhanced over the next six months.”
ECTAA’s Eric Dresin believes the world is entering a new period in the pandemic. “I’m not sure if we’re getting out of it, but for sure we can’t use the tools we’ve been using up to now; and we need something to help the industry get back the conditions to bring people back to travel,” he says.
To that end, the five associations (ASTA, ABTA, ACTA, CHTA and ECTAA) have joined forces to urge government leaders around the world to create an aligned and synchronized response to the current state of the pandemic by:
1) Expeditiously developing clear vaccine and testing standards
2) Loosening entry restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers; and
3) Providing the needed economic relief to the travel agency sector “suffering for too long the bitter consequences of travel’s hard-stop brought on by the pandemic.”
“The value of and need for travel advisors and agents in today’s world given the intense complexity of travel,” they say, “is vital now more than ever as consumers around the world attempt to recover from this pandemic with certainty and confidence.”
First published at Travel Industry Today