Can Phuket’s sandbox be a model for vaccine tourism?

Phuket opened to tourists despite COVID-19 deaths surging on the mainland. But the sandbox provides lessons for other tourist-friendly countries in the region, says a Southeast Asia observer.

JAKARTA: Before the pandemic, Thai island Phuket offered visitors the perfect blend of sun, beach and seedy-but-fun nightlife as one of the region’s best-known tourist destinations. Now, it offers visitors something much more novel: A quarantine-free holiday.

As of the start of July, fully vaccinated visitors from select countries can fly directly into Phuket and go straight from the tarmac to the beach. Spend a full 14 days there and visitors (or savvy Thai nationals) are welcome to continue their trip around Thailand, effectively spending their quarantine term in a resort under a programme that is being called the “Phuket sandbox”.

The programme isn’t without controversy. Fears over the safety of Phuket communities, as well as cynical assumptions that few would take up the confusing and expensive offer, blighted the programme in its first weeks.

Still, if it goes well, expect to see other holiday favourites such as Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao accessible shortly afterward.

Thailand was the first country outside of China to record a case of COVID-19 which, paired with mass cancellations of trips from Chinese visitors, saw tourism grind to a halt in the first couple of months of 2020.

The sharp, sudden decline in visitor numbers and then eventual rolling lockdowns smashed the country, where tourism accounts for around 12 per cent of GDP.

The delicate balance between economic imperative and public health has been revealing of governments around the world. In Thailand, that balance has looked desperate as the government moved to open something – anything, anywhere – to tourism.

Phuket is a natural choice. With a long-time reputation as one of Thailand’s best resort islands, Phuket has the infrastructure, particularly an international airport, to support the programme.

And as one of the most visitor-dependent provinces in a country already vulnerable to the whims of tourism, it is among the most desperate.


For the half a million residents of Phuket, the “sandbox” is a double-edged sword. The tourism industry has been all but destroyed by a year of no visitors, but public health is also paramount.

The government in Bangkok promised the plan would not go ahead until the community reached 70 per cent vaccination by the Jul 1 launch, which did in the end fall short – but only slightly.

The province has been plagued by the same issues as the mainland in terms of securing vaccine stock and navigating complicated online systems. Still, the vaccination programme will continue alongside the opening of the sandbox.

Full vaccination can’t come soon enough. At least six tourists have tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on the island under the sandbox programme. One of the first to be identified was a visitor from United Arab Emirates who had taken the test as part of requirements upon arrival.

Drivers and hotel staff who had come into contact with the man were placed into self-isolation. Health officials confirmed the tourist was vaccinated fully with the Sinopharm vaccine.

“Worry more about domestic arrivals,” provincial chief doctor Kusak Kukiattikoon told local media. His blunt words refer to the growing disaster on the mainland, with new daily record deaths as the Delta variant surges through the country.

Fresh restrictions are expected imminently including restrictions on interprovincial travel – essentially ending the quasi-quarantine of Phuket before heading elsewhere.

Ironically, the launch of the Phuket sandbox may have become a spreader event for the political elite in Bangkok who attended.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who proudly attended the launch on the island, went into self-isolation after an attendee tested positive. Spokespeople for the prime minister’s office reassure that he has so far tested negative and will continue his work as usual.


He may well use that time promoting the sandbox idea to other leaders in the region.

As planned travel bubbles, such as that between Singapore and Australia, collapse under the weight of new cases and unsteady vaccine programmes, the sandbox could become an option for other tourist-friendly countries in Southeast Asia.

“The sandbox is much more than just for Phuket or Thailand. It sets a possible way forward for other Asian countries,” tourism magnate Ho Kwon Ping told Bloomberg. He pointed to other possible locales such as China’s Hainan province, islands in Vietnam or even Indonesia’s Bali.

That may be overly ambitious for the time being, but it shows an industry pivoting towards creative ideas which acknowledge the pandemic is a long way from being over.

By the end of the year Phuket expects to have played host to 100,000 visitors. A long cry from the 10 million in years past but a respectable start for a devastated community fighting its way back.


New coalition to fight for gender equality in hospitality

Hospitality leaders across the globe have come together to form LeadingHôtelières, a coalition working to achieve better representation for women at the highest levels.

Formed by some of the world’s top hoteliers and hospitality academics, this pioneering initiative is calling for gender equality across senior positions, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Uniting industry leaders in a common goal

The LeadingHôtelières coalition has been founded by the CEO and president of HoteliersGuild, Frank M Pfaller, and co-founded by the CEO of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Lindsey Ueberroth. Considerate Group’s Xenia zu Hohenlohe is leading the coalition as chairwoman in its inaugural year, and the associate professor of management at EHL, Dr Sowon Kim, is joining as co-chair.

“When we looked at our HG membership roster, we realised that we had far too few women in leadership positions,” said Pfaller. “Reaching out initially to Lindsey, Xenia and Sowon, we were thrilled to realise their enthusiasm to join our cause to making a real change.”

Additional support is being provided by industry leaders like the owner and CEO of Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Valentina de Santis; sustainability architect Yasmine Mahmoudieh; the director of Red Carnation Hotels, Vicki Tollman; the director of spa at Four Seasons Hong Kong, Dr Tania Bardhan; and the CEO of hospitality consultancy WE(i) Think, Celine Vadam. Each will play an important role in establishing greater gender balance at a systemic level. The group’s communication is to be coordinated by the managing director of Mason Rose, Maria Pajares.

An advisory board is now taking shape, with founder of ESPA International, Sue Harmsworth; associate professor at Institut Paul Bocuse, Dr Henri Kuokkanen; and professor at IUBH University of Applied Sciences, Dr Willy Legrand onboard to offer support.

Working towards gender balance

Together, these figures are setting plans in motion to encourage gender equality across the industry by providing guidance, mentorship and training through its network of industry contacts.

The focus for the coming year is on addressing flexible working structures. “I’m happy to see more women CEOs in hospitality, but we are still a far cry from where I hope we can be in terms of representation,” said Ueberroth. “The biggest challenges for women looking to achieve top leadership roles were the need to travel, relocate and dedicate long hours.

“In the past, once having children and raising a family came into the equation, many women were forced to make a choice, and those challenges were hard to overcome. Given the innovations in technology and a more open attitude towards flexible working hours and home offices, many of these hurdles seem alleviated.”

“We are currently working on a framework to test whether the outcome of our goal, to improve gender equality among directorial and operational roles in the hospitality industry through updated flexible working schemes, actually works for our hotelier partners,” added Dr Sowon Kim, who is heading up research for the initiative. “We aim to create new and relevant knowledge and share these findings in a meaningful, productive way.”

Xenia zu Hohenlohe concluded: “Gender equality is a key part of the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and any business serious about futureproofing itself will need to address this issue.

“We have an incredible collection of women with highly professional profiles paired with great brainpower in this group, all driven by the motivation to ensure the female hotelier of the future will be able to finally have the same opportunities for career development as their male peers. I am delighted to be co-chairing this chapter with the wonderful Sowon Kim and we hope to be able to make a real difference with this work.”



Moving through jungles, deserts, steppes and endless plateaus, some train rides represent truly magnificent engineering work and unique travel experience. For these trains to be able to travel mountains, deserts, jungles and forests of extreme temperatures, it took thousands of workers and experts that overcame difficulties that seemed impossible. Tourism Review presents the best extreme train journeys around the world.

The Longest Ride

When people think about the most extreme train journeys, one certainly comes to mind: The Trans-Siberian Express. The express travels 9,288 kilometers from Moscow to the far east of Russia, to the port of Vladivostok.

The railway opened in 1904 and it took thirteen years to complete, in which two additional branches were added: the Trans-Manchurian, which reaches Beijing; and the Trans-Mongolian, which also heads for the Chinese capital after going through Mongolia.

There is also a route that reaches Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, by crossing 10,214 kilometers, making it the longest commercial express in the world.

The entire journey on the Trans-Siberian takes a week. Besides watching the beautiful wilderness behind the windows, the luxury services onboard also make the trip an amazing experience.

Through the Outback

Australia has one of the aridest deserts in the world, known as the Outback. The Ghan crosses this desert from north to south, going from Darwin to Adelaide on an almost 3,000-kilometer journey that takes five days.

The construction of the railway began in 1878, but it was not until 2004 when the route from the north to the south of Australia was completed. Nowadays, it can be very pleasant to board the Ghan train and look at the reddish desert, but the first journey of this train was actually made in 1929.

The name of this train service is a shortened version of its previous nickname, the Afghan Express, given after the Afghan camel drivers that made the same journey until the majestic railway was constructed.

The Northernmost Train Ride

Back to Russia, but this time we’ll be talking about the northernmost railway in the world: the Yamal Peninsula.

Opened in 2010, the Yamal Peninsula Express takes workers to Siberian gas plants, but tourists can also join on the 550-kilometer journey through the Obskaya–Bovanenkovo line.

While some may boast about going on a train that holds a world record, chances are it also holds the record for being the most boring train ride in the world. The view is amazing, but it’s the same picture for 22 hours.

And if you are planning to get a drink, you would be disappointed: the Yamal is a dry train with an airport-style security, so alcohol is forbidden.

Traveling the Indian Jungle

The Konkan Express, also known as the ‘monsoon train’, runs for 756 kilometers along the west coast of India, between Mumbai and Mangalore. Since 1920, a railway between those cities had been discussed, but the complex geography of the region introduced one obstacle after another.

It was inaugurated in 1998 after 20 years of work, which involved the construction of 2,116 bridges and 92 tunnels, making it the largest railway project in the history of Asia.

Tracing the line in the mountains on the edge of cliffs, cutting through the rugged jungle and raising rails in the middle of flooded terrain was an enormous effort of engineering in which those involved had to work under torrential rains, mud and water avalanches, infectious diseases and wild animals. In total, 74 workers died during the railway’s construction.

Train to the Clouds

Train to the Clouds

In the far north of Argentina, you can find the “Train to the Clouds”. This tourist train was opened in 1948 after two decades of work, and in 1972 it began being officially used by tourists as a heritage railway. After many pauses amid the economic crises that the country faced years ago, the train finally came back to life.

The train departs from Salta to San Antonio de Los Cobres, a small town that lives off the mining industry and is located at 3,775 meters above sea level.

Passing this town, the train reaches La Polvorilla viaduct, located at 4,200 meters above sea level, one of the most exciting points of the ride, when the train crosses this 64 meters high metal structure.

The engineering masterpiece of this railway line can be seen at departure and on the way back, consisting of 29 bridges, 21 tunnels, 13 viaducts, 2 spirals and 2 zigzags.


New CEO for Institute of Hospitality

The Institute of Hospitality, the professional body for current and aspiring managers working in hospitality, has appointed Robert Richardson as CEO.

Robert Richardson is to become CEO of the organisation as of 19 April 2021, succeeding Peter Ducker, who spent eight years in the role.  

A new chapter for the Institute of Hospitality

  Now taking the helm of this international professional body, Richardson will endeavour to build on Ducker’s legacy. Richardson was previously general manager of Cave Hotel in Kent and, prior to that, held the same post at The Grand in Folkestone, and was an active member of the institute’s advisory board.   The new CEO received the Institute of Hospitality Judges’ Award in 2018 for his commitment to the professional body, before in September 2020 being named Institute of Hospitality vice-chairman.  

Leading the industry forward

  In this influential role, Richardson will work closely with the Institute of Hospitality chair, Kellie Rixon, to lead the body in a post-pandemic world and help realise its aspiration to achieve chartered status.   “We could not be more thrilled to welcome Robert as our new CEO,” said Rixon. “We know he brings with him not only a wealth of hospitality industry experience and connections, but the respect of his peers in education and the wider community where he has dedicated so much of his time to raising the standards and stature of our amazing profession.”   “As hospitality returns to the forefront of our economy and our daily lives after a year of unprecedented disruption and challenge, there has never been a more important time for our industry to cultivate strong leadership and management skills,” added Richardson. “We also need to attract and inspire future generations of talent, and I believe the IoH is perfectly placed to help support this. It is a huge honour to step up and lead our institute moving forward into a brave new post-lockdown world.”


Marriott Execs: Don’t Expect More Hotel Mega-Mergers Even in Covid Times

Major hotel companies are massive enough. Mergers and acquisitions departments need to think more about smaller, strategic deals rather than mega-takeovers that take tens of billions of dollars and years to integrate companies.

The airline industry’s last two decades of consolidation are no longer the blueprint analysts once saw as a foregone conclusion for hotel companies.

Hotel industry analysts expected massive rounds of industry consolidation due to the pandemic. Instead, hotel companies have focused more on conversions — deals centered around organic growth that involves the owner of an existing hotel to take on a new brand affiliation.

While mergers and acquisitions aren’t entirely off the table, Marriott leaders don’t expect a repeat performance of its $13 billion Starwood Hotels & Resorts takeover in the future.

“First of all, you need a big checkbook to get one done,” Timothy Grisius, the global mergers and acquisitions and real estate officer at Marriott International, said Monday at a reporter breakfast at the 2021 Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles. “I think people are trying to keep their house in order today and make sure that they act in a financially disciplined way. There’s not a lot of need to grow even larger for a company like us. We do that organically and don’t necessarily need to buy additional brands.”

Hotel companies may analyze and pursue larger mergers and acquisitions, but there likely won’t be much traction, Grisius added.

The consolidation, or lack thereof, forecast comes amid a faster-than-expected recovery in the leisure sector. At the worst point of the pandemic, rumors revived about a potential Accor-IHG pairing as well as predictions smaller players like Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Choice Hotels, and Extended Stay America were low-hanging fruit for global giants like Marriott and Hilton.

While Extended Stay America traded during the pandemic, its $6 billion joint takeover came from investment groups Blackstone and Starwood Capital rather than a competing hotel company.

“I think the biggest thing right now is the difference between buyer expectations and sellers,” said Leeny Oberg, Marriott’s chief financial officer. “You’ve got the reality that, depending on what kind of player you’re talking about, the bigger ones would be looking for kind of one-offs that can fill in a hole rather than needing to go and do very large kind of transformational deals.”

The buyer-seller price expectation disparity, along with various rounds of federal pandemic relief, played a major part in why there hasn’t been a massive wave of hotel transactions so far.

But smaller, regional acquisitions could complement organic brand growth. Accor has generally followed this trend in beefing up its U.S. footprint, adding brands like 21c Museum Hotels and SBE in recent years.

Smaller brands might get dissuaded from the hefty costs required to invest in technology infrastructure. That could be an added incentive that eventually drives some smaller, regional brands to consider a sale, Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano said.

Marriott already follows the trend. AC Hotels was concentrated in Spain when Marriott first partnered with the brand in 2011. Acquiring South Africa-based Protea Hotels in 2014 gave the company a significant presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

“You may see some of these smaller transactions that follow a pattern where we have a small regional player that allowed us to get a footprint in a market where we struggled to grow,” Capuano said.

But the industry shouldn’t necessarily gear up for a major wave of these deals, either.

“I think you’ll see some of that, but Leeny’s point about the gap between the bid and the ask may mute the volume of transactions,” Capuano added.


Europe’s summer tourism outlook dimmed by variants, rules

LONDON (AP) — Chaos and confusion over travel rules and measures to contain new virus outbreaks are contributing to another cruel summer for Europe’s battered tourism industry.

Popular destination countries are grappling with surging COVID-19 variants, but the patchwork and last-minute nature of the efforts as the peak season gets underway threatens to derail another summer.

In France, the world’s most visited country, visitors to cultural and tourist sites were confronted this week with a new requirement for a special COVID-19 pass.

To get the pass, which comes in paper or digital form, people must prove they’re either fully vaccinated or recently recovered from an infection, or produce a negative virus test. Use of the pass could extend next month to restaurants and cafes.

Italy said Thursday that people will need a similar pass to access museums and movie theaters, dine inside restaurants and cafes, and get into pools, casinos and a range of other venues.

At the Eiffel Tower, unprepared tourists lined up for quick virus tests so they could get the pass to visit the Paris landmark. Johnny Nielsen, visiting from Denmark with his wife and two children, questioned the usefulness of the French rules.

“If I get tested now, I can go but then I (could) get corona in the queue right here,” Nielsen said, though he added they wouldn’t change their plans because of it.

Juan Truque, a tourist from Miami, said he wasn’t vaccinated but took a test so he could travel to France via Spain with his mother.

“Now they are forcing you to wear masks and to do similar kind of things that are impositions to you. To me, they are violations to your freedom.” he said.

Europe’s vital travel and tourism industry is desperate to make up after a disastrous 2020. International tourist arrivals to Europe last year plunged by nearly 70%, and for the first five months of this year, they’re down 85%, according to U.N. World Tourism Organization figures.

American, Japanese and Chinese travelers aren’t confident it will be possible to visit and move freely within Europe, the European Travel Commission said. International arrivals are forecast to remain at nearly half their 2019 level this year, though domestic demand will help make up the shortfall.

The U.K.’s statistics office suspended its monthly international passenger data, because it said there aren’t enough people arriving “to provide robust estimates.”

The United States this week upgraded its travel warning for Britain to the highest level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid traveling to the country because of the risk of contracting COVID-19 variants, while the U.S. State Department raised its alert level to “do not travel” from the previous less severe “reconsider travel” advisory.

The recommendations are constantly under review and not binding, although they may affect group tours and insurance rates. Britain’s warning has fluctuated several times this year already.

Some countries are showing signs of a rebound, however.

Spain, the world’s second-most visited country, received 3.2 million tourists from January to May — a tenth of the amount in the same period of 2019. But visits surged in June with 2.3 million arrivals, the best monthly figure since the start of the pandemic, although still only 75% of the figure from two years ago.

Spain’s secretary of state for tourism, Fernando Valdés, credited the European Union’s deployment in June of its digital COVID-19 vaccine passport for having a “a positive impact” on foreign arrivals. That, and the U.K. move to allow nonessential travel, “allowed us to start the 2021 summer season in the best conditions,” he said.

The EU app allows the bloc’s residents to show they’ve been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from the virus.

In Greece, where COVID-19 infections are also rising sharply, authorities have openly expressed concern that slowing vaccination rates could hurt the struggling tourism industry, a mainstay of the economy. Authorities have tightened restrictions for unvaccinated tourists and residents, banning their entry to all indoor dining and entertainment venues.

Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis urged the travel industry to put on a brave face.

“It’s very important that we do not give the impression that we have lost control of the pandemic,” Georgiadis said last week.

Some countries sparked chaos with last-minute changes to entry rules.

Denmark’s decision to upgrade Britain to its “red” list of countries with tighter travel restrictions threw London resident Richard Moorby’s vacation plans into disarray.

Moorby originally planned to go to Copenhagen in August to meet up with his Danish wife and their two children visiting his in-laws — like they did last summer. But under current rules Moorby wouldn’t have been able to travel separately because he’s not Danish. They planned instead to travel together, which they thought would be allowed even after the change — but they missed the announcement’s fine print prohibiting non-Danes from “red list” countries including the U.K. from visiting without a worthy purpose, which doesn’t include tourism.

“It was going to be a bit of a non-holiday anyway,” Moorby said. But “it went from, ‘We’d have a nice holiday in Denmark,’ to ‘well, maybe I can just about get there,’ to ‘I can’t even travel’.”

Meanwhile, the U.K. government unexpectedly announced that travelers coming from France would still have to self-isolate for up 10 days because of worries about the beta variant, frustrating travelers and angering the tourism industry and French government.

Emma and Ben Heywood, the British owners of adventure travel company Undiscovered Montenegro, said booking inquiries are surging after the U.K. government said in the same announcement it would stop advising against travel to countries on its “amber list” and dropped the self-isolation rule for returning travelers.

The couple said bookings last summer plunged to 10% of their usual level but now they’re at 30% and rising fast. Montenegro has a relatively low infection rate and relaxed entry requirements.

“It’s so hard keeping everybody up to date with what’s required to go where, with so many countries and so many different rules involved,” said Ben Heywood.

“It’s a total minefield. Half the emails I’m fielding now are people saying, ‘We definitely want to come. What do we need to do?’”


International tourism is still struggling to recover

At the beginning of the second pandemic year, international tourism is not back to normal, as the virus is still circulating in various countries.

This is the first time since the beginning of modern tourism that a crisis has been so dramatic. Between the re-emergence of strict border’s laws and the interruption of almost every traffics in the world, it seemed that globalisation was no more.

Fortunately, this archaic way of thinking was quickly dropped and mutual assistance returned to an almost normal state.

Today, if traffics were partially resumed, tourism is still in a critical condition. From January to May, the UNWTO recorded a drop of 86% in the arrival of international travellers compared to the same period back in 2019, even if a small recovery in May 2021 can be noted, of the order of 4%.

This minimal one can be attributed to the easing of restricting measure in some countries. If we can hope for a reinforcement of this trend, variants and other variables has also to be put in consideration.

On a more cheerful note, local tourism tends to regain ground, especially in well developed markets such as Russia or America. Being unable to travel all around the world, people has restarted to visit their countries and contributed to the rebound of the industry, as money destined to go to other countries was spent in local markets. In Russia for example, seat capacity on domestic flights has already gone past the pre-pandemic level.

To conclude and as The UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Accelerating the pace of vaccinations around the world, ensuring effective coordination and communication of ever-changing travel restrictions, and promoting digital tools to facilitate mobility: all of these are essential to restore confidence in travel and getting tourism moving again.”


Cruise industry to generate $6.6B in revenue in 2021, almost five times less than in 2019

In 2019, the entire cruise industry generated $27.4bn in revenue, revealed the Statista data. After the pandemic struck, revenues plummeted by 88% in a year to $3.3bn in 2020.

The COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the global cruise industry, with cruise lines practically disappearing after the pandemic hit and all operators witnessing double-digit sales drop.

However, it seems that 2021 might bring a new hit to the sector, which is already on its knees. According to data presented by, the entire cruise industry is expected to generate $6.6bn in revenue in 2021, almost five times less than in 2019.

Confidence in the Cruise Lines Plummeted Amid Pandemic, The Number of Users Down by 76% in Two Years
When the COVID-19 hit, cruise ships immediately suffered high infection rates among passengers and crew. Thousands of people were stranded on board, spending months in quarantine. By the end of April 2020, more than 50 cruise ships confirmed hundreds of COVID-19 cases. It didn’t take long for cruises to be depicted as places of danger and infection.

In 2019, the entire cruise industry generated $27.4bn in revenue, revealed the Statista data. After the pandemic struck, revenues plummeted by 88% in a year to $3.3bn in 2020. Although this figure is expected to almost double and hit $6.6bn in 2021, it still represents a massive 77% drop compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Statista data indicate it will take years for the cruise industry to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2023, revenues are projected to reach $25.1bn, still $2.3bn less than in 2019. In 2024, cruise line revenues are expected to rise to over $30bn.

As people lost confidence in the entire cruise industry amid the pandemic, the number of cruise line users plunged to the deepest level in years. In 2019, almost 29 million people worldwide had chosen cruise lines for their vacation. Last year, this figure dipped to 3.4 million. Although the number of cruise line users is forecast to recover to 6.7 million in 2021, it still represents a massive 76% drop in two years.

Combined Revenues of Top Five Cruise Markets Still $16B Under Pre-COVID-19 Levels
The Statista survey revealed that, despite a $10.24bn revenue drop in 2020, the global cruise giant Carnival Corporation remained the largest player in the market with a 45% market share in 2021. Royal Caribbean Cruises ranked second with a 25% share. Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises follow, with 15% and 5% share, respectively.

Analyzed by geography, the United States represents the world’s largest cruise industry, expected to generate around $2.8bn in revenue this year, 78% less than in 2019.

Revenues of the German cruise line market, the second-largest globally, are expected to hit $830 million in 2021, compared to $2.8bn before the pandemic struck. The UK’s cruise companies are forecast to generate $650 million in revenue, down from $2.4bn two years ago. Chinese and Italian markets follow, with $570 million and $218 million in revenue, respectively.

Statistics show that combined revenues of the world’s five largest cruise markets are expected to amount to over $5bn in 2021 or $16bn less than in 2019.


Tourism takes action on plastic waste and pollution

Addressing plastic pollution is essential to sustainably restart tourism, preserve destinations and contribute to climate action.

Tourism businesses and destinations are stepping up their commitment to sustainability. Aimed at reducing waste and pollution across the sector, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (GTPI) is welcoming 32 new signatories, with every global region represented behind the shared goal.

The Initiative unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution. It enables businesses, governments and other tourism stakeholders to lead by example in the shift towards a circular economy of plastics. Among the 32 new signatories are organizations such as TUI Group, AC Hotels by Marriott, Palladium Hotel Group, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, Hostelling International, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and Visit Valencia. These new additions bring the total number of signatories up to 93 companies and organizations. These include organizations from stages of the tourism value chain, including accommodation providers, tour operators, online platforms, suppliers, waste managers and supporting organizations.

Andreas Vermöhlen, Manager for Sustainability, Circular Economy and Sustainable Development at TUI Group said: “Together we can make important steps towards less unnecessary single-use plastic in the world and shift towards a circular economy.”

Addressing plastic pollution is essential to sustainably restart tourism, preserve destinations and contribute to climate action
To mark the confirmation of the new signatories, UNWTO and the United Nations Environment Programme, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, held a special panel discussion with the theme Eliminate. Innovate. Circulate. Strategies from the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative. Participants included Accor Group, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Palladium Hotel Group, Chumbe Island Coral Park and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance.

Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General said: “Addressing plastic pollution is essential to sustainably restart tourism, preserve destinations and contribute to climate action. We are proud to see the number of signatories growing continuously since the launch of the initiative.”

Alongside this, a keynote presentation on “A Life Cycle Approach – Key messages for tourism businesses” further highlighted the aims of the GTPI, with a special focus on innovation and the importance of context-based approaches to ensure plastics are circulated back into the economy rather than thrown away after use.


Slight uptick in tourism recovery: UNWTO

Between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85 per cent below 2019 levels (or a 65 per cent drop on 2020), UNWTO data shows. Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of Covid-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel.

Meanwhile, domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world. The latest UNWTO data shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than pre-pandemic year of 2019. However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82 per cent (versus May 2019), after falling by 86 per cent in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.

“Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism,” said UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili.

International tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to reimpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the northern hemisphere’s summer season.

However, vaccination programmes around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel. In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets.

Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the United States is strengthening further.