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COVID-19 and tourism partnership

Gaunette
Sinclair-Maragh

Thursday, March 26, 2020

As a global phenomenon, tourism encompasses activities to include visitor flows, visitor spending, and the international ownership of tourism businesses. It was projected that these, among other activities, would collectively facilitate international tourism growth in 2020 to surpass the 2019 figures of US$9.12 billion in total contribution of travel and tourism to global gross domestic profit, which is a representation of 10.4 per cent. With the onset of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) this projection will not be realised. The United Nations World Tourism Organization has recently lamented the expected decline and the impact it will have on global economy. They noted a decline by one to three per cent, which translates into a loss of US$30 billion to $50 billion from visitor spending.

On a daily basis, COVID-19 continues to affect everyone on planet Earth. It is occurring simultaneously in multiple spheres and sweeping countries around the world without discrimination or consideration for geographical, political, religious, ethnic, or racial differences. The tourism industry is very dynamic, but the outbreak of COVID-19 was never anticipated. What's known is that tourism can be impacted by global geopolitical factors, trade tensions, and the global economic downturn that can all reduce the rate of international travel.

Natural disasters are also inevitable, particularly amidst the discourse of climate change.

The unknown COVID-19 emerged and stymied global travel and tourism trade causing international travel to come to a halt, hotels to close their doors, eateries to be experiencing reduced patronage, and the list goes. The manifestation of this macro-environmental force is now resulting in shocks in local, regional, and global economies as well as social and cultural displacements around the world.

With tourism being the main engine for economic growth and development for many countries, especially the developing and underdeveloped ones, the big question is: What should these countries be doing at this time?

Many of them are signatories to 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prior to COVID-19, some of these countries remained despondent about achieving the SDGs by 2030 as they seemed unreachable because of the lack of international support and political will. What remains evident is that tourism has the potential to contribute to the achievements of all 17 SDGs. But, now that the industry is gravely impacted by this international shock, the other question is: Can the SDGs be achieved in 2030?

Nonetheless, the management of COVID-19, during and after the pandemic, requires a collective and pragmatic approach, starting with SDG #3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for everyone at all ages. This sets the premise for achieving many other SDGs, such as the reduction of poverty and hunger. Specific to tourism, SDG #17 is very imperative. This speaks to the strengthening and revitalisation of Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. Realistically, this is required at all levels, not only globally, but at the local and regional levels as well.

Particularly at the local/country level, tourism stakeholders are to be a part of the national action to overcome this adversity. No longer should corporate social responsibility (CSR) be a mere notion, but an altruist demonstration of tourism business' commitment to contribute to the actions by the Government in curtailing the spread of the virus.

There should be an effort to maintain sustainable economic and social development among employees, their families, the local community, and society at large to deal with their lives during and after COVID-19. These are the people on whom the industry depends for the achievement of performance targets which ultimately contribute to the economic growth and development cycle. This cycle continues by reducing poverty and hunger, contributing to the development of infrastructure for health and education, and achieving a sustainably developed tourism industry and nation.

CSR amidst COVID-19 goes beyond legal obligations; it is to further social good to ensure that lives are saved so that the human capital will be in place to regenerate the economy. Some will, however, argue that it is not their responsibility, but the fact is that tourism is a people industry/sector. It relies on people to provide the products and services being offered to visitors and tourists. Without people and interaction tourism will not happen.

Others may argue that this is the time to change the normal to robotic services. The counter argument, however, is that robots are without affective traits for the display of emotions, which is a critical component of the 'people factor' in the tourism industry — this is worthy of exploration in another discourse. And still, others will argue that with a large percentage of multinational corporations there may not be patriotism to the country in which they operate to be involved in altruism for COVID-19 eradication.

Despite all this, what is most important at this time is for tourism businesses to become a part of the solution in eradicating COVID-19 through CSR. What is expected is the demonstration of what is right and what is responsible in assisting governments in saving the most important resource — human capital — and reviving the industry. Additionally, the management of infectious diseases is to be added to the hazard risk management plan, both at the business and country levels, to mitigate future occurrences and impacts. Being prepared before a crisis happens can reduce its impact. Studies have shown that the impact of infectious diseases on tourism is very devastating, but it can be mitigated if there is ample pre-crisis preparation as demonstrated in the Asian countries in 2005 when the tourism industry partnered with the Government to prepare for the Avian Flu. On the other hand, countries impacted by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were not prepared and, hence, their industry was severely impacted.

In concluding, this is a call for tourism businesses in Jamaica, particularly the larger ones, to assist the Government in addressing the needs of the many hospitality and tourism workers who are now out of their jobs due to closure or reduced operations. 'Social good' now for future prosperity. COVID-19 will pass and the tourism industry will rebound. The resilient Jamaican people will be needed to deliver the hospitality and tourism services.

 

Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh is an associate professor and head of the School at the Hospitality and Tourism Management of the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or gmaragh@utech.edu.jm.