When a few vaccinated Westerners rediscover this summer the beaches of Thailand, the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, or the safaris of Kenya, the most striking will be what they will not see: the mass of small hands of globalized tourism, evaporated in the stop of the trip. Housekeepers, baggage handlers, craftsmen. Street photographers, weavers, parking guards. The drivers, the mattress rental companies, the masseuses. Guides, t-shirt vendors, diving instructors. The ecosystem built for mass tourism, sometimes for the worse, has dispersed to other sectors, causing a rural exodus. Its reconstruction will necessarily be slow.
You don’t have to go to the end of the world to see the social impact of the border closure – in Lourdes, the soup kitchen is overflowing. But it is more devastating in developing countries, where the social safety net and domestic customers are non-existent. At the dawn of a second summer without much activity, the savings of households are exhausted. The 74% drop in the number of international visitors in 2020 resulted in the loss of 62 million jobs, estimates the World Travel Council and tourism (WTTC). We must add those supported artificially by governments and whose survival will be uncertain once the tap is off.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that we currently only see the tip of the iceberg that has just hit the sector, and that the number of jobs destroyed by the crisis will exceed 100 million. Small and medium-sized enterprises affect four out of five workers in tourism ; however, a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calculates that more than half of them will disappear by the end of the year.
In Europe, Asia-Pacific and America, tourism activity accounted for almost 10% of the work before the crisis. This share was growing worldwide, since one in four jobs created between 2014 and 2019 was in this sector. The accessibility of long-haul travel has accompanied this boom in tourism employment, by developing services that did not exist for domestic customers: the WTTC estimates that a job is created for 11 international visitors to Africa, 13 in Asia Pacific. The United Nations (UN) therefore particularly fears the impact on certain African countries and on “small island developing states” (SIDS).
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