Armchair travellers intent on visiting Great Britain can use the national tourism agency website to download recipes for lemon lavender shortbread, take a virtual tour of Harry Potter locations and shuffle a thoroughly British playlist. Piquantly, this includes The Clash’s 1980s anthem “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
What they cannot do, under current rules, is fly to the country without a two-week quarantine. That — unsurprisingly — has irked British Airways, and Ryanair, as well as easyJet which has been resuming flights this week. Similar restrictions elsewhere have stymied visitor flows, dealing a blow to the $3tn global tourism industry.
The UK government may quell the rebellion by exempting most destinations favoured by Brits from quarantine rules. This does not solve the travel industry’s real problem - the natural risk aversion of consumers. Tourism is an up-close and personal business of crowded souks, beach massages and island raves. It does not fit well within a social distanced world.
Snapshots from holiday destinations show an industry trying to reinvent itself. Some have little choice. Thailand, which relies on tourism for almost a fifth of its economy, will end its ban on incoming international flights at the end of the month.
Hoteliers are putting the focus on upmarket holidays — single-unit villas are an attractive proposition when you want to minimise contact — and local travel. Vietnam has revived a previously-used mantra of “Vietnamese travel in Vietnam”. Hotels across Asia are using packages to lure locals into discounted staycations or weekends.
In some cities, hotels recasting themselves as quarantine specialists are doing a roaring trade. In Auckland, where the average length of stay a year ago was under two nights, hoteliers are now hosting guests who stay for a minimum 14 days. In China, where the InterContinental Hotel Group, Marriott and Accor chains are mostly back in business, occupancy rates were last month around 50 per cent, according to data consultancy STR.
Tourism is a huge part of many economies. All told, including indirect business, tourism is responsible for one in 10 jobs globally, says the World Tourism & Travel Council. Even in the UK, the sector generated £200bn last year.
Rows over rules to reduce infection will recur. But with second waves of infection appearing in Asia, the wariness of holiday makers will damage revenues worse than travel restrictions.
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Article re-edited prior to print publication.
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