It has been over a year since the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, also known as COVID-19, which has impacted just about every aspect of the 21st century status quo. Although many businesses and sectors have been able to pivot to a sustainable new normal, some industries like that of the travel and tourism industry, which accounted for 9% of the UK’s economy, has had it’s chronic frailty exposed and has been left fighting for survival in the economic ICU.
With public health the understandable priority, the first quarter of 2020 saw airlines grounded, businesses closed and national lockdowns introduced. Although there has been subsequent loosening and tightening of restrictions since then, the travel and tourism industry has been majorly impacted throughout, which has led to approximately 2.4 million job losses, more than half of the sector’s jobs in 2019.
As well as the impact at an individual level, we are also seeing the industry, which usually generates £200bn annually, set to lose £37bn over the last 12 months according to VisitBritain Chief Executive Patricia Yates. This is the brutal impact that a global pandemic has had on an industry that was one of the country’s fastest growing sectors and had even been predicted, prior to the emergence of COVID-19, to reach an estimated value of £257bn by the year 2025.
Travel restrictions in the UK
As of the 8th of June 2020, the British government introduced a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for tourists and travellers entering the country in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. This regulation meant that 2020 had to be all but written off as a revenue stream for many businesses. In 2019 inbound tourism was estimated to be worth £28bn to the UK economy, compare that to an estimated value of £6bn in 2020 and you have a record fall of 78% thanks to the plummet in international tourism, which also represents a return to the same levels as 30 years ago.
On a global scale The World Tourism Organization predicts a rebound in international tourism by the second half of 2021, although with the latest national lockdowns and rampant new strains it remains to be seen whether the UK will follow the same timeline. One thing that is expected is further travel restrictions with the UK government reluctant to rule out restrictions during Spring and Summer until the rate of transmission appears to be under control.
As new variants of the virus are detected we can expect to see the banning of flights to certain countries like that of South Africa and Portugal in order to protect the UK from more virulent strains. Towards the end of 2021 there is hope that travel will become less restricted, although there is no doubt that measures like quarantines and PCR tests prior to flying are most likely here to stay for the medium to long term.
Impact on the Volunteering Sector
The devastating impact of COVID-19 and complications with international travel has been felt here at WorkingAbroad. The volunteer sector within the UK itself has suffered with 80% of volunteer organisations predicting a negative impact on delivering their objectives over the next 12 months and a further 10% think it likely they’ll be forced to close. Although faced with challenges, with your help, we will still be offering our volunteering opportunities abroad and will continue to support wildlife conservation and community development projects.
With the rollout of a vaccine it starts to look like the beginning of the end for a chapter in history, the impacts of which won’t be fully known for years to come. What is for sure is that the next few months are critical; the post-recovery period will depend on the level of hysteresis and institutional efficacy. Beyond this there is scope to come out of this stronger; governments and practitioners within the industry must develop a new loaded mechanism that is ready to combat future crises, while also undergoing the transformation needed to build a stronger, more sustainable and resilient tourism economy.
Written by WorkingAbroad Blog Writer, Barnaby Bourton