To travel or not to travel? That is the question.
As Europe’s journey with the Covid-19 pandemic enters its next phase, many have embarked on their summer adventures to Greece, Italy or Spain, riding the wave of optimism offered by EU recommendations on opening borders. Even though a majority of the countries in Europe are past their Covid-19 peaks for now, there have been spikes and fears of a second wave and people find themselves checking government travel advisories with trepidation, almost on a daily basis, to see whether their plans will follow through.
This uncertainty and the related travelers’ anxiety will be the hallmark of travel and tourism in the age of Covid-19. Given the varied recovery trajectories for countries across the world, reopening and revival strategies will have to be tailored to the specific context. So what is in store for this sector in South Asia and what can the path to recovery of the industry look like in the region?
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the travel and tourism sector accounted for 10.3 per cent of the global GDP and 330 million jobs in 2019. The sector has seen high growth in the last 10 years, which can be largely attributed to factors such as rising disposable incomes, the emergence of low-cost carriers, ease of travel through internet-based services and relaxation of visa regulations.
In South Asia, WTTC estimates that the sector contributed $234 billion or 6.6 per cent of the region’s GDP in 2019. Within the region, the pandemic could not have come at a worse time for Nepal’s tourism industry, which has almost entirely shut down since the outbreak. The government had declared 2020 as the Visit Nepal Year, announcing a national campaign with an annual target of achieving two million tourist arrivals. With the country’s borders closed to adventure-seeking mountaineering crowds, the direct actors along in the tourism value chain (tour operators, trekking agencies, mountain guides, and Sherpas) have lost their only source of income.
Similarly, the Republic of Maldives is uniquely vulnerable to external shocks, and tourism constitutes a third of the country’s national revenue in this small island state. Neeza Imad, Minister of State for Economic Development of Maldives, says, “Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on our economy, particularly in relation to SMEs that account for most of the tourism related employment.” As a result of the ongoing crisis, the International Monetary Fund has projected that the country’s economy will contract by 8.1% in 2020.