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Green Is The New Black

OPINION: The Impact Of COVID-19 On Conscious Travel & Airlines

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Stuck at home, dreaming of travel escapades? Us too. Temporarily grounded due to the current pandemic, our travel expert Jaclyn Yost shares her view on what COVID-19 means for the future of responsible travel and tourism, the challenges this poses for the airline industry, and what it means for the climate crisis.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the travel and tourism sector is facing a lethal combination of setbacks. With thousands of flights grounded, hotels and restaurants shut, tour operators ceasing operations, and authoritative figures around the world calling residents to stay at home, the industry has been virtually brought to a standstill.

So what does this mean for business?

2020 was originally predicted to see a historic 3-4% increase in international arrival receipts. However, in the face of the pandemic, the World Tourism and Travel Council is instead projecting that travel will experience a 25% decrease in activity; equivalent to the loss of a peak summer season, both monetarily and durationally speaking. This directly puts 75 million jobs at immediate risk, and 320 million more jobs likely to be indirectly affected by the dramatic drop in tourism business demand. 

In terms of activity and job loss concentration, Asia is expected to be the region that is hit the hardest, with the European Union and the United States following closely behind. As the travel and tourism sector makes up approximately 10.4% of the global GDP, a slump in tourism would be catastrophic for the global economy. In the United States alone, without the sector, USD$3.4 billion could potentially be lost each month; further suggesting how devastating the impacts can be in destinations that are more heavily dependent on the industry as their primary economic source (i.e. Southeast Asia, Italy and Spain). 

The current state of uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation has led experts predicting that it could take anywhere between 6 to 12 months for normal tourism activity to resume. This long recovery timeline in addition to being a low-margin industry has brought immense pressure and instability to travel-related businesses around the world, in particular the smaller-to-medium sized enterprises. 

While already susceptible to vulnerable factors — such as exchange rates and natural disasters — Wall Street Journal’s CEO anticipates that coronavirus’ impact on the travel industry will be bigger than the 2008 financial crisis and post-9/11 attacks combined. Nonetheless, when looking into past trends, the travel and tourism industry is one of the most resilient when overcoming distress, if managed correctly. 

And what does it mean for climate change?

Although there are many conflicting opinions discussing what is right versus what is wrong right now in the media, what can be seen is that immediate action is able to be taken on both a national and international level and that it is possible to communicate and generate a cohesive global response to pressing issues; regardless of societal or economic differences and structures. 

Looking at the bigger picture of climate change, it has been widely acknowledged that we must act now to avoid the worst impacts of our warming world — environmentally, socially, and economically speaking. Additionally, it has also been noted that, in order to stabilise the climate, it would take international collaborative effort through actionable frameworks and long-term goal agreements. 

Saying this, the global response to COVID-19 indicates the possibility of how we can shift towards shaping a more meaningful future for our planet. The stimulus plans, bailouts, and investments that are taken in reaction to the current health crisis can also act as a model for the actions that need to be taken for climate-related policies. As global warming is deeply interconnected into our systems, this is a prime opportunity to re-evaluate current operations and move forward with authoritative decisions that decarbonise our economies and uplift societies.

For example, moving away from fossil fuels and reducing CO2 emissions requires deliberate policy action. Before COVID-19, the airline industry had already been under constant scrutiny for the amount of carbon emissions linked to the sector. The recent change in air quality due to the lack of flights could showcase the need for structural change when pushing towards a greener stimulus (i.e. ordering the use of low-carbon fuels or imposing taxes on kerosene and international ticket sales).

What we can do now…

It is now more pressing than ever for tourism stakeholders to work together in order to mitigate against a more severe economic downfall and to save the industry as much as possible. 

Immediately, in the sector’s best interest, government officials and industry leaders will need to implement crisis management policies with ongoing monitoring and evaluation strategies, as well as provide government funding to support businesses to stay afloat for the time being. 

As for travellers, it is best to follow the advice of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to “Stay home, so we can #TravelTomorrow”. By accepting this social responsibility and forgoing travel plans until it is considered safe again, we can do our part to facilitate regrowth when the time is right. And while we are staying put, we can take this time to lobby respective leaders and government officials over green changes we want to see — not only within the travel industry, but across other disciplines too. On a smaller scale, we can continue to learn the best practices of what it means to be a sustainable tourist so that when we can travel again, we make decisions that will protect environments, promote circular economies, support local communities, and celebrate culture.”

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A self-proclaimed "Eco-Nomad", Jaclyn Yost has lived in various parts of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and has journeyed to 41 countries (so far)! She is passionate about spreading awareness on sustainable tourism and how to be a more responsible tourist. When she is not working or traveling, you can usually find her in a yoga studio or whipping up a tasty meal in the kitchen.