Cebu’s tourism industry must move on

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - August 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Until the end of 2019, world tourism was flourishing. It continued to rise despite wars, political chaos and threats of extremisms, among others. In fact, even countries with so much sophistications in terms of threat-readiness and were on their toes 24/7 were not spared of these threats too. Yet, their tourism initiatives thrived.

Yes, it did rise constantly even if the paranoia that no one was safe obtained. A survey published by the World Economic Forum (The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019) confirmed this.  According to the report, “in 2018, the industry helped generate 10.4% of world GDP and a similar share of employment, and has shown enormous resilience over the last decade.” It further reported that “fueling this expansion and relative resilience was the continuing growth of the middle-class in Asia and other parts of the world.”  On account of this growth, the industry boldlypredicted that “in the coming decade, industry contribution to GDP is expected to rise by nearly 50%.”

Considering the trajectory then, such prediction was so appropriate. However, today, as the citizens of the world are held hostage by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), such projected increase is nowhere to be seen and felt. In fact, not only that it did not increase, the global tourism industry, as a whole, was almost brought down to ground zero.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc globally, the colossal damage is now becoming evident. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) confirmed this and it has “provided the first comprehensive insight into the impact of the pandemic, both in tourist numbers and lost revenues, ahead of the upcoming release of up-to-date information on travel restrictions worldwide.”

It reported that the “cost up to May was already three times that of the 2009 Global Economic Crisis.” Clearly, the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer “showed that the near-complete lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a 98 per cent fall in international tourist numbers in May when compared to 2019.” It also showed a “56% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals between January and May.”

This resulted into “a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism receipts – more than three times the loss during the Global Economic Crisis of 2009.”  Due to this very sad development, UNWTO Secretary-General ZurabPololikashviliemphasized the need to restart tourism the soonest possible time, of course, when the situation warrants.

Sans vaccine, however, we all know that it will be very difficult. With trust and confidence eroding, we know it will be a long climb. Nevertheless, if governments, like ours, will “responsibly prioritize public health while protecting jobs and businesses”, as the good UNWTO Secretary General emphasized, probably too, the tourism industry can go back on track on the road to recovery, albeit, slowly and cautiously.

Yes, other countries have started to reopen their borders to international tourism. Some countries in Europe did. Some countries in the Carribean islands, like Aruba and the Bahamas have reopened too. Maldives, which economy is totally dependent in tourism, just reopened mid-July. Gladly, these are good signs.

Despite these positive developments, however, “the UNWTO Confidence Index has dropped to record lows, both for the evaluation of the period January-April 2020, and the prospects for May-August.” Most members of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts “expect international tourism to recover by the second half of 2021, followed by those who expect a rebound in the first part of next year.”

Undeniably, in Cebu, these are the realities that we also have to deal with. Having tourism as one of the major economic drivers in Cebu, we are all aware that thousands of livelihoods are at risk. Enormous, yes, but not insurmountable.

On this, we admire the direction Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia is taking. That of reopening some of our tourist destinations to local tourists. Reopening with public health and welfare in mind.

Simply put, Cebu’s tourism industry must move on.

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