Where are we heading? Tourism after the coronavirus crisis

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Where will we travel to when it is safe to do so again? How will the coronavirus crisis change tourism in the long term? DW asked Ulf Sonntag from NIT, the Institute for Tourism and Spa Research in Northern Europe.

Deutsche Welle: The World Tourism Organization UNWTO expects the number of international travelers to fall to the level of 2013: Instead of 1.4 billion travelers like last year, only one billion people will travel. That is one third less. Has there ever before been a decline of this magnitude?MUSIC | 21.04.2020

Ulf Sonntag: No, there has never been one of this kind before. And I am not sure whether the estimates of the UNWTO are not even overly optimistic. The OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is predicting a drop of 40 to 70% in international travel for its 36 member states this year.

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In Germany there is great discussion about summer holidays. What do you think: will we all have to stay home this year?

It all depends on the political framework conditions, and these are exceedingly difficult to predict. The political decision-makers seem to be prepared to do so. There are also first scenarios focusing on the order in which tourist businesses and gastronomy could reopen, i.e. first holiday apartments and guest houses, later hotels. I hope that perhaps from the middle or end of May we will see the first tender shoots of domestic tourism again. But nobody can really say now when we will be allowed to cross borders again.HEALTH | 15.04.2020

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After all, there are all kinds of suggestions: The German Baltic and North Sea resorts, for example, are considering occupying only every second hotel bed in order to reduce the masses. In Italy, there is a proposal to separate beach chairs and restaurant tables with plexiglass boxes. How realistic are such suggestions?

We will have to follow the rules of social distancing for a long time until a vaccine against the coronavirus becomes available. So, it’s not surprising that such game plans are being made at the moment: How can we prevent too many people from being gathered in a confined space?  One solution could be to rent out only every second room. Or only every second hotel opens. Or not to get too close to each other on the beach. Whether plexiglass is really the solution remains to be seen on a case by case basis. But these examples show how creative and innovative efforts are to save the highly endangered tourism industry.

We in Germany are quite fortunate because we have the classic German wicker beach chair, right?

(Laughs) Right, I hadn’t thought of that. The wicker beach chair was invented to protect holidaymakers on the North and Baltic Sea from the cold wind here in the north. But yes, it is also very suitable for use as a distance spacer.

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Baltic Sea island Fehmarn 2019: The beach chairs will probably not be that close together this summer

Let’s look into the distant future: Many people are worried about when there will be full freedom to travel again. What conditions must be met so that we can once again travel without restrictions?

I am afraid that we will only see the opening of borders for travel at the very end of the progressive return to normality. Perhaps here in Europe first. But globally? We will probably first need a vaccine against the coronavirus or an effective treatment.