A growing call to consider the coronavirus a permanent fixture in our lives is resonating in the travel and tourism industry. The call is to normalise the ritual of travelling in our lives both for work and leisure as we are hopefully moving from the pandemic to the endemic stage of COVID19.
Highlighting the importance of resumption of travel for the world’s economic growth, the global aviation trade body – International Air Transport Association (IATA) has requested all the governments to remove all travel bans and barriers, including quarantine and testing, as Covid-19 moves to the endemic stage. In India, the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH) – an association that represents the country’s tourism, travel and hospitality industries has requested the Government to remove the ban on international commercial passenger flights.
Recent studies conducted by various sources suggest that travel restrictions in any part of the world cannot control the spread of COVID19 virus, including the Omicron variant. Referring to a recent research by Oxera and Edge Health in the UK, Italy and Finland, IATA said it supports the report that travel measures do little to control Covid spread when already broadly present in the local population. Studies found that the travel restrictions may only marginally reduce the number of cases or delay the peak of a new wave by a few days if implemented at a very early stage.
Willie Walsh, IATA Director General, said with the experience of the Omicron variant, there is mounting scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travellers with restrictions and country bans to control Covid19 spread.
“The current situation of travel restrictions is a mess. There is one problem – COVID-19. But there seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and COVID-19 than there are countries to travel to. Indeed research from the Migration Policy Institute has counted more than 100,000 travel measures around the world that create complexity for passengers, airlines, and governments to manage. We have two years of experience to guide us on a simplified and coordinated path to normal travel when COVID-19 is endemic. That normality must recognise that travellers, with very few exceptions, will present no greater risk than exists in the general population. That’s why travellers should not be subject to any greater restrictions than are applied to the general community.”
“The measures have not worked. Today Omicron is present in all parts of the world. That’s why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk to general populations. The billions spent testing travellers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems,” he said.
Understanding the calling, quite a few countries have recently announced the easing of travel restrictions beginning this month. The UK will remove testing requirements for vaccinated international passengers arriving from February 11; Australia, one of the countries with the strictest entry barriers, will open its border on February 21; and New Zealand will begin its five-stage reopen on February 27.
However, India still has border restrictions in place. Though curtailed flight operations limited to 28 countries are on through a bilateral air bubble arrangement, the commercial international passenger flights remain suspended in India till February 29, which is close to 23 months now.
FAITH recently urged the Indian government to “announce the opening up of our borders and resumption of full commercial airline flights with zero quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers across all Indian ports.” It has requested the Tourism ministry to take up the matter with the health ministry. It further added that the industry generated around $30bn revenue in 2019-20 which will be lost with the continued travel curbs.
The industry sentiment resonates well with the travellers as they are ready to travel again. As long as COVID protocols are maintained, travellers are ready to resume travel as they did before Covid19. They are ready to travel for work, leisure or to meet family and friends, just the way they used to.
“Tourism and hospitality have been badly hit by restrictions and lockdown and now is the time to support these industries and learn to sustainably manage Covid19 using vaccines, masks, testing and ventilation,” said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh.
With respect to travel bans, the WHO Emergency Committee confirmed their recommendation, “Lift or ease international traffic bans as they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress experienced by states. The failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of Omicron variant to limit the international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.”
The last two years have had a devastating effect on the Aviation, Tourism and Hospitality industry. The industry is hopeful that the opening of borders, this time, will last longer and help them recover from the losses.
We need to accelerate and ensure worldwide vaccination of people and strictly follow the COVID guidelines, however, the travel bans should end now. Like all other businesses are trying to accept and live with the ‘new normal’ ways of COVID19, Aviation, Travel and Hospitality industries should also be freed of all operational restrictions and allowed to function normally. A more cohesive and coordinated approach to travel is much needed now.