By Lauren Arena

Travel and business events leaders have warned the industry to brace for further coronavirus turbulence ahead.

During an online forum hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board last week, WTTC president and CEO, Gloria Guevara said greater co-ordination between the public and private sector is needed in order to get the industry back on its feet.

Together with Oxford Economics, WTTC has assessed the impact of Covid-19 on the travel and tourism sector, which prior to the pandemic contributed 10.3 per cent to global GDP and supported 330 million jobs globally.

“The industry has already experienced 100 million job losses,” she said. “If we don’t see the removal of barriers, such a travel bans and quarantine, that figure could double.”

Guevara insists that in order to avoid further damage the industry needs to learn from past mistakes. WTTC has analysed 90 crises that have taken place between 2001 and 2018 to highlight areas of improvement that will allow the industry to recovery faster from Covid-19.

“Following 9/11, the industry took an average of four-to-five years to recover. Every government defined their own protocols for safety and security and this created a lot of anxiety among travellers,” she said.

The lesson: We must embrace global standards and protocols to rebuild trust among travellers. This is particularly pertinent in Asia, where talks of ‘travel bubbles’ and ‘air corridors’ between some countries in the region are gaining traction.

Guevara also stressed that public and private collaboration is essential, citing the 2008 Global Financial Crisis as an example.

“Following the GFC, the industry rebounded within 18 months because that’s when the G20 was created and we had a platform for coordination between the public and private sector,” she explained.

As well as a co-ordinated approach to reopen borders and remove quarantine, Guevara says protocols for testing and contact tracing must be seamlessly integrated throughout the traveller journey, with a consistent set of rules for pre and post-vaccine scenarios.

“We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine,” she said. “Travel is the backbone for trade. We need to work together to rebuild confidence and remove barriers to safe international travel.”

Similarly, IATA director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said current quarantine measures are a “major obstacle” to recovery. So, the association is focused on bio safety.

“Because aviation is a network business, the implementation of bio safety measures must be universal,” he said. “We are advocating for the implementation of systematic testing rather than quarantine to guarantee that air travel is safe.”

de Juniac also said that a potential Covid-19 test for airline passengers could be “weeks away” from broader implementation.

Representing the global exhibition industry, UFI managing director and CEO, Kai Hattendorf, said, as a driver of economic growth, business events are key to any economic recovery following Covid-19.

“The industry has always been able to adapt to changing needs and situations, from globalisation to digitisation, and global threats,” he said. “So, Covid-19 will also lead us to new procedures and standards, perhaps comparable to the operational and infrastructure changes we saw after 9/11.”

Hattendorf said the accelerated trend towards virtual and hybrid meetings will continue, but won’t cause a fundamental shift to the way we do business.

“Clicks online do not discuss deals, and eyeballs don’t sign orders, and IP addresses don’t stay in hotels overnight,” he said.

As a case in point, Hattendorf referenced the recent Canton Fair, one of China’s largest trade fairs, which was held virtually for the first time ever in June. The show’s live commerce session attracted 150,000 viewers on the first day, but resulted in only three enquires.