Life and travel in a new normality…

11:54 28.07.2020 • Alexander Moiseyev , International Affairs observer

 

Weary of the COVID-19 epidemic and feeling the pinch of significant financial losses during the months of the coronavirus crisis, the world is in a hurry to open borders, restart air traffic and resume tourist travel without even waiting for the pandemic to fizzle out. Simultaneously, many countries are doubling down on developing and testing vaccines and drugs against this dangerous scourge. Many heads of state hope that once this pandemic is over, everything will return to normal. Will it really? Will we have to live in a changed reality?

 

… Many scientists, physicians, experts and politicians around the world are trying to find answers to these questions. Many researchers believe that international tourism, which until recently had been on the rise, was among the economic sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. It is no secret that many small, and not so small countries now live off inbound tourism. According to experts, this year the tour industry as a whole may lose up to $3.3 trillion and a huge number of jobs. Small wonder, therefore, that after three months of isolation and border closures, the industry just can’t wait to get back into business and make up for the lost time. It is against this backdrop that the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is publishing new data about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this popular sector.

UNWTO analysts emphasize the need for responsibility, safety and protection of tourists when travel restrictions are lifted, and reiterate the need for a strong commitment to supporting tourism as an important driver of a global economic recovery.

While in some parts of the world, above all in Europe and America, tourism, domestic as well as international, is now resuming, many travel restrictions still remain. Fully aware of this, the UNWTO has reiterated its call on governments and international organizations to support tourism, a lifeline for millions and the backbone of the economy. Measures being implemented to this effect by governments include a gradual lifting of restrictions, creation of tourist corridors, resumption of some international flights, and improvement of safety and hygiene protocols.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) is urging tour industries around the globe to mandate the use of face masks as protection against the spread of the COVID-19 infection. Moreover, such safety measures will have to be applied for quite some time. In addition, the WTTC recently released new guidelines for safe and hassle-free travel, including testing and monitoring, frequent hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and more.

Responsible Travel Guidelines have been developed for the entire global travel and tourism sector focusing on measures to safely steer business to car rental companies, airports, tour operators, sightseeing attractions, etc.

European media, meanwhile, continues to report paradoxical cases in the countries of Ibero-America. For example, Spanish newspapers write about Barcelona’s historic Liceu Opera opening for its first concert after months of lockdown. However, instead of playing to an audience filled with art-loving VIPs, the UceLi string quartet serenaded a leafy audience of 2,292 plants. The “Concert for the Bio-Public” conceived by conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia marked the theater’s reopening to the public after Spain ended its state of emergency in June. The well-educated, albeit disturbingly silent audience, that featured a variety of plants, including fig trees and palms, brought in by local nurseries, enjoyed the performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Crisantemi before being handed over tolocal health workers "in recognition of their dedication to the pandemic." The concert was broadcast live on the theater’s website.

Recent polls in Spain show that more than 65 percent of the country's citizens will spend their vacations at home. According to a survey conducted by the Spanish government's Center for Sociological Research, most Spaniards are not going on vacation this summer, and only one in ten plans to go abroad. After the coronavirus pandemic, 65.7 percent of respondents said they ruled out going on vacation, and seven percent were undecided. Of the meager 27.2 percent who intend to go on vacation, over 90 percent will opt for domestic destinations, and only six percent would like to go abroad. Spain, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 28,000 deaths, is opening its borders to almost everyone in the European Union.

However, representatives of Spain’s tour business, which accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP, fear that in the event or a new coronavirus outbreak their clients could become infected or get stranded in a foreign country. Meanwhile, people in some countries already feel the psychological impact of the pandemic, with studies showing that those who survived the quarantine now value their work and personal space more than before. Going to work reflects a certain degree of harmony in one’s life, when someone does not feel alone, left one-on-one with everyday home routine. Not to mention the importance of earning money, of course. As for personal space, people have learned to enjoy being alone, reading a book, writing poems, whatever.  Not so when there are several people sharing a small apartment and having to give up some of their habits and hobbies. People get tired of each other. In April-May, many complained about family problems and divorces, but psychologists say that the number of such complaints has been going down and that the need to maintain social distancing has taught people to build personal boundaries  - a habit, which in some countries was seriously weakened during the times of collectivism. The modern generation has also learned a lot about viruses and infections, hygiene and sanitation. And, of course, after months of forced self-isolation, many people now prefer to promenade and travel more than they did before.

Experts say that the worldwide slogan “We Will Travel Again” contains not only a promise to return to normal life, but also a commitment to rebuild a sector faced with the need to resist, rethink and adapt to new market demands and make sure that tourists always feel safe wherever they go.

The prominent Spanish tour business expert, journalist and publisher José Carlos de Santiago recently saw "the light at the end of the tunnel." In an article, published in his magazine Excelencias, referring to the end of the coronavirus pandemic and the resumption of tourism activities in the world, he writes that recent global research gives a reason for cautious optimism, not only in Europe where the pandemic curve begins to go down, and more decisive measures are taken to contain the spread of infection. In the Americas, the Caribbean islands are opening their borders to international tourism: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Montego Bay have courageously reopened to international visitors and North American planes are already landing there in compliance with strict COVID-19 health regulations. New standards include sanitary controls, travelers are checked before flying, the use of digital technologies has been expanded, additional disinfection is done both inside airports and on the planes, payment for tickets and services are made with credit cards and when with cash, then with the mandatory use of face masks. José Carlos de Santiago adds, however, that according to World Tourism Organization experts, the first signs of recovery will not be felt before the last quarter of 2020, and underscores the need to move towards more sustainable tourism in economic, social and environmental aspects. The road to recovery is just beginning, and as the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer, many questions still remain, the journalist concludes.

Caribbean News Digital online newspaper on tourism has published a list of nine major short- and long-term changes that the tour industry will go through in the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Thus, when they reopen, the theme parks, museums and other highlights that usually attract a great number of people will deal with smaller and more controlled crowds. The museums will also try to make sure that visitors feel safe and are properly separated from each other. The requirement for wearing face masks may also remain, and antiviral cleaning will be carried out throughout the day.

Airlines already require that passengers and personnel all wear face masks, refuse to serve food and drinks during flights, and increase the frequency of cleaning. Some are now asking travelers to fill out medical questionnaires, and check passengers' temperature, but federal authorities are taking additional steps to get this done.

In a recently released guide, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) outlines a list of new regulations. Airports are also changing their modus operandi and may revise some rules for the passengers’ movement in and around the terminals. When travel resumes in many countries, the initial focus will be on domestic tourism. As for international tourism, much depends on the situation with the epidemic in each country. While airlines may believe that they charge passengers for everything, from seat selection to baggage check-in, in fact, deregulation has reduced the cost of one mile of flight, making international travel more affordable than ever before. Some travelers fear, however, that due to the pandemic the airlines may reduce the number of passengers flying overseas, thus jacking up the cost of other international routes.

Since the big problems caused by the COVID-19 epidemic arose in mid-March 2020, there are two main questions that have been dogging the cruise industry: when will ships return to sea with passengers? And what will cruise tourism look like in the future?

One thing is clear: it will take some time before cruise ships return to sea. When they do, they will hardly be as full of passengers as they were before the pandemic struck.

Temperature tests are likely to become routine. The construction of new cruise ships will almost certainly be delayed and travel routes may temporarily change.

Some major cruise operators recently announced that, among other measures, they are going to replace air conditioners on their cruise ships with so-called "medical grade air filters," introduce contact-free temperature control for passengers and increase the frequency of cleaning all areas.

Temperature control will become mandatory, self-service buffets will close, and the number of seats on tourist buses during coast-side excursions will be reduced. What remains unclear, however, is how many people will be willing to go sailing again, given the number of victims of the virus worldwide and high-profile outbreaks on ships. But cruise ship executives are still optimistic about their prospects for 2021.

A revised cleaning procedure will bring an important change to the vacation rental market, with the coronavirus pandemic having redefined the very notion of cleanliness and health care for tourists. Some experts believe that this new focus on healthy travel will be expanded in the future. Many cafes and restaurants are expected to be closed for economic reasons, and the comeback of domestic and international tourism will certainly play an important role in the reopening of restaurants, especially in big cities and capitals worldwide. The same with hotels, whose success will likewise depend on the quality of their sanitary provisions. Their clients should expect more frequent cleaning, cleaner rooms, hand sanitizers galore and fewer contacts with employees as hotels are encouraging people to check in online and use their cellphones as room keys. Some guidelines instruct room service staff not to enter suites while the occupant is inside, unless expressly invited to do so. All these precautions will undoubtedly spoil the hospitable atmosphere that the hotels promise their guests.

Meanwhile, countries are in a hurry to start restoring domestic and international tourism and improve their relations with the outside world. And while more cautious experts wonder “how are we going to live in a new normality?", the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported a new uptick in coronavirus infections in Europe and a catastrophic situation in the US, Brazil, India and dozens of other countries.

If this process is not stopped, it will once again push the European countries’ health systems "to the brink of the abyss," the WHO warns. According to Latin American media reports, Argentina’s business sector would welcome the adoption of the National Emergency Tourism Law, which would offer it a wide range of benefits. According to the new law, due to the emergency situation in tourism, within a year from the end of social isolation measures, payment by the government of 50 percent of wages will also cover small and medium-sized tour operators until October this year, they will enjoy nationwide tax deferrals until December 31, 2020, be exempt from paying tax on debits and credits, provided with zero-interest loans for the purchase of medical equipment and technology related to COVID-19. The new legislation will also halve the hotels’ VAT payments by March 2021 (applies only to residents of Argentina) and provide subsidies for tour guides, equivalent to the minimum wage through October 2020...

…The three main problems that the tour industry may face in the future are economic one, a lack of customer confidence and tough competition. All of this creates uncertainty for the end consumer, and this is where communication must come into play and restore consumer trust. In other words, the press, all media outlets are responsible for restoring our life in a new normality. Truthful and objective information is what will help the world community to cope with the pandemic and achieve its goals. “We need lots of accurate information to inspire consumer confidence,” experts say.

How is Russia opening to the world? The ban on the entry of foreign nationals expires on July 31, 2020. The restrictions do not apply to Russian citizens leaving the country: it was officially reported that persons with dual citizenship, a residence permit, as well as holders of special categories of visas (for medical treatment and work), had already been able to leave the country. According to media reports, even Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov does not know when the borders will open for everyone. In a recent media interview, he said that the ministry will be bringing the government up to speed in real time on the epidemiological situation abroad and on exactly which countries are opening to the outside world and how.

... Anyone, who is guided by the saying “God helps him who helps himself,” will certainly take all necessary precautions both in everyday life and while traveling in the new normality. Therefore, we advise our readers to keep in mind the recommendations listed above, which will help avoid many troubles, and maybe even save their lives.

 

Notes:

What do experts advise COVID-19 patients to eat? This is the question ordinary people often ask scientists and seasoned nutritionists. Scientists in different countries are researching this issue. In Germany, they recently found that cabbage can be helpful in cases of suspected coronavirus infection. They have also determined that different varieties of cabbage are popular in countries with low death rates from coronavirus. For example, in Germany and South Korea, the number of fatalities from COVID-19 was significantly lower. It is noted that cabbage contains substances that prevent a severe course of the disease. For example, sauerkraut contains antioxidants that enhance the body's defense against pathogens. Earlier, Spanish nutritionist Alejandro Canovas and head of the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) Eusebi Chiner named products that help protect the lungs from coronavirus. According to Canovas, eggs, whole rice, sea fish and walnuts can help strengthen the respiratory system. Chiner explained that when the lung condition worsens, the body's need for protein increases. He added that eggs contain fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and high-quality proteins.