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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.

A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

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.

AN OPTION FOR OTHER COUNTRIES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

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.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/covid-19-phuket-sandbox-quarantine-beach-resort-travel-thailand-15225442

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.”

Source: https://hospitality-on.com/en/transport/international-tourism-still-struggling-recover

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.

Source: https://www.traveldailymedia.com/slight-uptick-in-tourism-recovery-unwto/

Almost half of all hospitality employees lost job in sector during last year

Almost half of all people employed in the Belgian hospitality sector during the first quarter of 2020 no longer have a job in this sector, according to the Federal Public Service Economy’s Labour Force Survey published on Tuesday.

The study compared the labour market status of the first quarter of last year when the pandemic started in Belgium with the first quarter of this year and found that, although most people are still in employment, the rate of employment has not recovered as well in all sectors.

“We see a particular effect among workers in hotels and restaurants: of those who were working in hotels and restaurants in the first quarter of 2020, only two-thirds are employed a year later,” the report read.

In the first quarter of 2021, the sector employed 40.4% fewer people than during the same period in 2020.

In comparison, employment in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector also dropped by around 10%. Only the Agriculture, forestry and fishing and ‘Human health and social work’ sectors had slightly higher job retention rates.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, businesses in the catering industry are finding it hard to fill vacancies, not because there are not enough people looking for a job in this sector – around 8,000 people are, according to Bruzz – but because jobseekers don’t have the relevant education or experience.

The number of job offers in the hotel and catering industry is at its highest since April, and the number of job-seekers in the sector has also remained high since March last year however a lack in experience as well as in the certainty such jobs offer during a pandemic is resulting in them remaining unfilled.

Job seekers’ struggle

When it comes to the impact on the unemployed, the study found that 44.9% of the job seekers in 2020 were unemployed (again) a year later, 29.1% have stopped looking or are no longer available for work and just 26% have found a job since.

The rate of continued unemployment varies between the French- and Flemish-speaking regions: in Flanders, 38.4% of the jobless remain unemployed, but another 38.6% found a job a year later.

In comparison, 48.6% remain unemployed and only 18.6% go back to work in Wallonia, whilst in Brussels, the rates are similar, with 48.7% people remaining jobless and 19.1% finding a job.

Young people and low-skilled people are particularly affected, as, respectively, only 80.2% and 77.4% of those who were employed at the start of 2020 were still employed in the first quarter of this year.

FPS Economy pointed out that making comparisons between the two periods when it comes to unemployment has become more complicated as the definition of employment changed in the new European Framework Regulation.

Now, people who have been temporarily unemployed for more than three months (‘long-term temporarily unemployed’) are considered unemployed or inactive, and no longer employed.

“In the first quarter of 2021, it is estimated that 80,000 long-term temporarily unemployed people will be counted as inactive (and to a lesser extent, unemployed),” the report explained.

Source: https://www.brusselstimes.com/news/belgium-all-news/employment/176455/almost-half-of-all-hospitality-employees-lost-job-in-sector-during-last-year/

Recovery of European tourism in sight this Summer

BRUSSELS – European travel activity is set to build some momentum moving into the peak summer months due to the gradual easing of restrictions, the ramp-up in vaccinations, and the EU’s recent reopening to more third countries and fully vaccinated travellers from abroad. Travel demand is expected to pick up considerably in the second half of 2021, though international arrivals will still remain 49% below pre-pandemic levels in 2021. That is according to the latest quarterly ‘European Tourism Trends & Prospects’ report published by the European Travel Commission (ETC).

The report notes that this summer season is essential for the sector as European travel demand remained weak in early 2021 – international tourist arrivals dropped 83% (1) in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2020. Meanwhile, downside risks linger following the surge in infections of the more transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, which could force the return of travel restrictions.

President of ETC, Luís Araújo, noted “In view of the rapidly advancing vaccination programmes, which reduce pressure on national health systems and protect our most vulnerable, Europe is now managing the COVID risks well both for locals and our long-awaited travellers. We therefore believe that safe travel is possible this summer. The reopening is also fuelled by the strong desire of people to travel again and secured by the readiness of our sector to provide safe and responsible travel experiences. As Europe is opening up, it is imperative that clear and coherent messages are communicated to prospective travellers.”

Declines in foreign tourist arrivals to Europe continue well into 2021
Hopes for summer relief are high following the catastrophic start of 2021 in European tourism, with latest available data indicating that 3 in 5 destinations posted declines over 80% in international tourist arrivals. Austria has so far suffered the greatest percent decline in visitors. COVID-19 tight containment measures wiped out expectations of a winter tourism season, resulting in a 97% plunge in tourist arrivals to the Alpine country.

On the contrary, Croatia significantly outperformed other European destinations, reporting a 23% increase in visitor arrivals. The country led the way in waiving most COVID-19 travel entry restrictions for international travellers provided they had been vaccinated, could present a negative test, or had recovered from the virus.

Europe’s tourism rebound in reach
Intra-European travel is expected to bolster travel demand in the second half of 2021, with improving epidemiological situation across Europe enabling governments to ease restrictions and satisfy the longing among people to travel again. The latest forecast shows that intra-European travel will account for 83% of Europe’s inbound arrivals in 2021 compared to 77% in 2019.

As vaccinations gather pace across Europe with over 62% of the EU’s adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, European travel demand this summer is projected to catch up. ETC’s data shows that 54% of surveyed Europeans intend to book a trip once they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 (2).

The EU’s Digital COVID Certificate, active as of July 1st, is also expected to support the release of pent-up travel demand and accumulated excess savings during the pandemic.

Bumpy road to long-haul travel recovery
Long-haul travel demand is projected to recover more slowly, with barriers set to remain in place well beyond the end of 2021. While domestic and intra-European travel is expected to return to 2019 volumes by 2022 and 2023 respectively, travel from long-haul source markets is not likely to recover until 2025.

The US market is expected to make the most significant contribution to Europe-wide travel demand growth in the coming years. Announcements to welcome vaccinated American travellers have already boosted Transatlantic travel to destinations such as Iceland, Croatia and Greece in May 2021. According to ForwardKeys’ data, issued tickets from the US to Croatia (+0.5%) and Iceland (+22.7%) have surpassed 2019 levels, while Greece is just 10.9% behind.

China is also expected to make a sizeable contribution to European travel growth over the next decade. Despite accounting for a smaller proportion of arrivals to the region, an expected average annual growth rate of 12% would see Chinese arrivals contribute 4.7% of overall arrivals growth to European destinations over the period 2019-30. However, while domestic traffic in China continues to show remarkable recovery to pre-pandemic levels, Chinese international travel remains stagnant for now.

Source: https://www.traveldailynews.com/post/recovery-of-european-tourism-in-sight-this-summer

Canada Won’t Reopen To Tourism for ‘Quite a While’

Despite easing restrictions on travel from the United States for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents earlier this week, Canada has no plans to reopen its border to non-essential travel anytime soon.

“I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen for quite a while,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday, according to Reuters. “We need to continue to ensure the safety of Canadians,” he added, stressing the importance of making sure that the past year-plus of quarantine and restrictions “are not for nothing.”

The Canada-U.S. border is currently closed to non-essential travel until at least July 21. That date is likely to be extended as it draws closer, however.

As of July 5, Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can avoid the country’s 14-day quarantine requirement and eligible air travelers no longer have to spend their first three days in the country at a government-approved hotel.

“The next step we’ll be looking at what measures we can allow for international travelers who are fully vaccinated,” Trudeau added. “We will have more to say in the coming weeks.”

On Wednesday, a White House official told Reuters that the Biden administration is still not close to reopening the U.S. to international travel.

Source: https://www.travelpulse.com/news/impacting-travel/canada-wont-reopen-to-tourism-for-quite-a-while.html

Travel Advisors React to Travel Companies Mandating COVID-19 Vaccine

Headlines about mandatory COVID-19 vaccines are proliferating around the country and the world.

Cruise lines, airlines and many other leisure and hospitality companies are now grappling with whether or not to require coronavirus vaccines for employees and customers.

While vaccines are quickly becoming a hot commodity with many Americans lining up to get their jab, there remains a large part of the population that is hesitant to get a shot for such a new virus with a vaccine approved only for emergency use. However, despite vaccine hesitancy and scarcity, companies are already considering vaccine requirements for both customers and employees—some have even announced new policies along these lines.

Because vaccines provide a clear path to reopening travel, TravelPulse spoke with travel advisors to see what they thought about vaccine policies and requirements.

Importantly, many advisors noted that safety was a top concern.

Beth Rasor of Vacation Daze, who practiced pharmacy in community and hospital settings before becoming a travel advisor, praised the science that created these vaccines but also sees both sides of the issue for clients and companies. However, Rasor cautioned against vaccine mandates.

“Deciding to receive the COVID-19 vaccination should be a personal choice, not a mandate for travel in my opinion. Each person has to consider the risk of contracting the

isease and make the best choice for his/her situation,” she said. “As distribution of the vaccine is still limited, vaccine mandates will be hard to implement anytime soon. Additionally, the vaccine isn’t yet approved for all patient populations such as children.”

Rasor also noted that vaccinations alone will not stop COVID-19 from spreading.

“Vaccine distribution isn’t the solo golden ticket to getting ‘back to normal,’” she said. “As with most viruses, viral mutations make vaccine development difficult and cause vaccines to lack efficacy. Therefore, sound cleaning protocols, effective air filtration systems, diligent hand washing, wearing face coverings when necessary, symptom monitoring and testing should continue to be our main focus in stopping the spread of the disease for those choosing or needing to travel. Vendors also need to maintain or adopt flexible cancellation policies for guests needing to cancel at the last minute due to illness.”

Miki Taylor, founder and CEO of Taylor & Co. Travel, suggested that it could be more equitable to use medical passports since vaccines remain elusive to many and some people will not be able to take them.

“I think having the vaccine to travel would protect everyone that travelers would come in contact with, but at the same time, the vaccines need to be more readily accessible to everyone,” said Taylor. “Also, I feel that if someone has an underlying medical condition that could potentially put them in even more danger should they receive the vaccine then this is where the medical passport could come into play because it isn’t fair to tell someone who could potentially have an adverse reaction to the vaccine due to an existing medical condition that they can’t travel unless they put themselves at greater risk and get the vaccine.”

Stephen Scott, luxury travel advisor for Protravel International, sees vaccines as the fastest way to getting travel back on track and points out that those who don’t want to be vaccinated don’t have to go to places where inoculation is required.

“Our goal in tourism needs to be to reopen with the least amount of damage to the health and the economy of our travelers, the employees within tourism, and also the people in the destinations we travel to,” said Scott. “Right now, this is the way to meet both of those needs.”

He also pointed out that travelers who don’t want to be inoculated can choose not to go.

“I see this as the fastest opportunity to re-open theme parks, cruise lines, and tourism districts,” said Scott. “The Yellow fever vaccine may already be required for entry into certain countries in Africa and South America. That means, if you don’t want to take it, you don’t have to go there. The same thing will apply for any companies or countries that add this new vaccine to their list of requirements. If you don’t want to take it, then you don’t have to go.”

Kim Cook of Love to Travel in Overland Park, Kansas, noted that testing for COVID-19 is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus and pointed out that testing is very accessible right now.

“Currently, I think the testing requirement is more important for slowing the spread of Covid,” Cook said. “Testing is widely available in the U.S. and in the international destinations we sell. From everything I am reading, it is going to take a while for the general population to be vaccinated with some choosing not to take the vaccine. If having a vaccine is required for travel, I think it will slow tourism’s recovery. Eventually, I can see a vaccine requirement for international destinations but not until it is widely available.”

While we wait for vaccines to be more widely available, testing certainly will play a major role in reopening travel. However, it is unlikely that, at least in certain parts of the travel industry, there won’t be vaccine requirements in the future for COVID-19.

Source: Christopher, J. (2021) | https://www.travelpulse.com/news/travel-agents/travel-advisors-react-to-travel-companies-mandating-covid-19-vaccine.html

The 2020 Hospitality and Tourism Trends That Will Likely Stay in 2021 and Beyond

Looking back before we look forward

At year-end 2019, I predicted a few 2020 trends in hospitality, retail, and tourism businesses. For example, I recommended that we should pay special attention to the following areas:

  • A shifting focus on food delivery, sustainable food, and quick-casual restaurants.
  • Using AI and facial recognition in service operations.
  • The threats from Google, Amazon, and Airbnb as a (potential, new) giant tourism enterprise in the market.
  • Investors’ growing interest in boutique retail stores and hotels.
  • Customer loyalty issues as more travel companies adopted the dynamic pricing strategy even in their frequent traveler programs.
  • Safety issues during travel.

Certainly, the global pandemic was not anything I could predict back in 2019, but COVID-19 might have just accelerated many of the foreseeable changes we expected for the future. Moreover, many of the changes we observed in 2020 will very likely stay in 2021 and beyond, including

Delivery and contactless self-service will continue to grow

Delivery service in restaurants and supermarkets, among other sectors, had observed a boost since the pandemic hit in March. Additionally, restaurants, hotels, and airlines have extended or rolled out contactless self-service through mobile apps, kiosks, and facial recognition technology.

A large number of fast-food chains also introduced new restaurant designs that embrace such trends, including double- or triple-drive-thru lanes, conveyor belt delivery, and food lockers for pick-up orders. In some cases, dining rooms become optional, where the restaurants only focus on delivery and pick-up services.

Meanwhile, Amazon began testing Amazon One, a new biometric payment device that relies on cloud and palm recognition technologies. Palm recognition might become a popular biometric tool in the future as it has some advantages over those more commonly used facial or fingerprint recognition technologies.

Home-sharing will remain a large share of the lodging industry

When the pandemic hit, I wondered if home-sharing guests would choose to stay in chain hotels instead due to hotels’ enhanced cleaning standards. It turned out that home-sharing and luxury hotels might recover sooner than other lodging products. Furthermore, Airbnb is ready for IPO in mid-December, targeting $30 to $33 billion.

As we discovered more about home-sharing services through research, such as their 7 P’s marketing mix, consumer preferences of sharing or accessing the accommodation facilities, and Airbnb listings’ agglomeration effect, some hotel chains had already gotten into the home-sharing business. Like Airbnb, hotels’ home-sharing arms are doing well even during the pandemic, which may encourage more hotel chains to enter the home-sharing market.

If COVID-19 becomes a catalyst for more hotel mergers and acquisitions, will more hotels get into the home-sharing market through acquisitions? Or the other way around, will Airbnb acquire a hotel chain or another OTA (online travel agent) site?

Work from home will stay but is not helping business travel

Many companies cut the budget for business travel, and an increasing number of organizations let employees work from home permanently. When fewer people commute or travel for work, the work-from-home trend does not help the hospitality and tourism industry but may stimulate extended-stay hotel growth.

When will travel recovery take place?

Some people believe that COVID-19 will forever change the way people travel. While indicators showed travel and hospitality businesses were picking up in the summer, largely from leisure travelers, nobody can precisely predict what the future holds. Until we can travel again, or more importantly, until people travel for business again, we will not see a real recovery. Right now, it is not a bad idea to target baby boomers for leisure demand.

Other trends

Facebook is losing its charm to certain internet user groups. It becomes critical for us to know where our prospects hang out after they abandon Facebook.

Following the breakthrough results of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is safe to predict coronavirus restrictions will be lifted soon. I hope we will resume our normal routines shortly. Still, it will take a while before we can ease our cautionary measures against the virus.

Source:  Linchi Kwok, Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management | Hospitality Net

https://www.hospitalitynet.org/opinion/4101917.html

England Will Use Covid Testing to Shorten Travel Quarantines

England will introduce a new system on Dec. 15 allowing passengers arriving from high-risk countries to take a COVID-19 test after five days of quarantine and to be released from any further self-isolation if they test negative.

Airlines and other companies in the travel and tourism industries had been calling for such a scheme for months, having suffered devastating consequences from a 14-day quarantine rule that has deterred people from travelling.

“The move will give passengers the confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test,” the government said in a statement on Tuesday.

The new scheme will be open to all passengers arriving from countries not featured on the government’s safe travel list, such as France, Italy, Spain and a number of other major destinations usually favoured by British tourists.

“With this announcement there is now light at the end of the tunnel not just for carriers and UK aviation but consumers looking to get away at Christmas and beyond,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry group Airlines UK.

People travelling to England by plane, ferry or train from Dec. 15 and wishing to take advantage of the scheme will have to book a test with a private provider from a government-approved list. They will have to pay for their test.

Those who decide not to take a test will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

British Airways said the new scheme was “a significant step in the right direction”.

The airline added that it planned to publish results of trials it was conducting between Britain and the United States that it said would show that a robust pre-departure testing system would eliminate the need for quarantine altogether.

The government also said it would introduce new financial support for commercial airports and ground handlers in England in the new year, capped at up to 8 million pounds ($11 million)per site.

“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the (aviation) sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said in the government statement.

Source: https://skift.com/2020/11/24/england-will-use-covid-testing-to-shorten-travel-quarantines/

The Ethics of Travel Advisors Are Being Challenged, and It’s Not Right

A column in Friday’s USA Today has rankled the travel industry in general and sullied the name of travel advisors in particular.

And it’s not right.

The column is entitled, “Is it ethical to recommend travel while the world is in the grips of a second COVID-19 wave?” and was written by Christopher Elliott. In the piece, which you can read here in its entirety, Elliott not only questions the idea of selling travel now that a new surge of the virus is engulfing the country but also challenges the integrity of travel agents who do so as well as airlines and cruise lines and hotels for offering deep discounts to customers.

Elliott quotes a few experts, particularly those in ethics law.

“With both infections and hospitalizations increasing in many countries, including the U.S., it’s worth remembering the most fundamental ethical principle of all: do no harm,” says Bruce Weinstein, an author and ethics expert. “With that in mind, it is ethically unintelligent to travel now – especially for leisure.”

“I do not think it is ethical for companies to be recommending travel,” says Emily Waddell, who publishes a blog called The Honest Consumer. “The travel companies are just looking out for their own best interest in regards to sales. They’re not taking into consideration the seriousness of the pandemic and how more people traveling could increase the spread of the virus.”

Added Robert Foehl, professor of business law and ethics at Ohio University: “We have an ethical duty to prevent harm to others.”

Okay, as a pragmatist I can see some of their points.

Now let me make mine.

This logic is flawed.

If we were to follow this logic to the letter, then the author and the experts should also use their soapbox to talk about everything that is, allegedly, unethical – both during the pandemic and without this cloud hanging over our global heads.

Such as … where is the outrage for retailers who sell cigarettes, knowing the dangers of smoking and knowing the dangers of second-hand smoke to non-smokers? What about the tens of thousands of liquor stores across the nation selling alcohol, when we know the dangers of becoming addicted to booze? What about the rosy commercials for cleaning products that promise to turn everything sparkling, but fail to warn you that some of the chemicals used to make the product are harmful to your health? Where’s the outrage there?

Granted, I get it. The USA Today piece is directly connecting the ethics question to the pandemic. But again, you could make the same argument with any of the other examples I brought up. Drinking is up — why don’t we castigate liquor store owners who push specials during the crisis? Depression is up — why don’t we criticize schools, for instance, for not doing more to bring their kids into the schools to foster more socialization?

My point is simple – it’s called freedom of choice. Neither travel advisors nor tobacco manufacturers nor liquor salesmen nor the makers of window cleaners are going door-to-door and forcing you to buy their products. They might entice you with sales and specials, sure, but how does that make travel agents any more unethical than any other salesperson?

No, this is a personal decision to travel that rests solely with the client. Just like buying a pack of Marlboros or a fifth of Grey Goose.

There’s no question the entire travel industry is in a fight for its collective lives because of the coronavirus, but the circumstances are extraordinary. Ten percent of jobs in this country are somehow travel related. It’s not just the industry itself but the health of the U.S. economy at stake.

And to suggest, as the column does, that travel advisors could omit, downplay or outright lie about the guidelines and the situation regarding travel at this moment, is not only disingenuous but unethical in and of itself. Times are tough, yes, but travel agents have built an unparalleled reputation they are hardly going to risk for an eight to 12 percent commission. For that kind of reward vs. risk, they better be booking one hell of an around-the-world trip.

(Which, uh, aren’t allowed at the moment anyway.)

Look, the bottom line is this. We’ve already seen how bad the pandemic has been. It has shut down the cruise lines completely and, at one point earlier this year, had planes leaving the gate with just one or two passengers. But to stop selling travel – or, in effect, to shut down the entire industry as the column seems to be suggesting – is not the answer.

And to say that selling travel right now is unethical is a slap in the face to everyone from a hotel CEO to the person who cleans the airport bathroom – all of whom contribute to an industry that makes this country go.

Source: https://www.travelpulse.com/opinions/column/the-ethics-of-travel-advisors-are-being-challenged-and-its-not-right.html