Located a short distance from the Greek capital’s commercial center, Pi Athens ordinarily welcomes droves of American and Australian tourists this time of year.
“The concern this summer is that those who will come — if and when they do — will skip the big cities and head directly to a beach location,” Gavriel told CNN Business. “The hotel is a rented property and there are many bills to pay. I have invested in it heavily. We are hoping for some revenue in the summer but we don’t know if this is going to happen.”
Travel and tourism accounts for some 10% of global GDP and one in 10 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry group. As many as a third of these jobs, or more than 100 million positions, and some $2.7 trillion in GDP could be at risk as a result of the current crisis, the council said last month.
Countries that rely most heavily on tourist dollars will be hardest hit. A 25% decline in tourism income will knock on average 7% off GDP among “small island developing states,” a contraction that could go as deep as 16% in places such as the Maldives and Seychelles, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The situation is also dire in Europe, which boasts half the world’s international tourist arrivals. The European Parliament estimates that the bloc’s tourism industry is losing around €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in revenue per month, a devastating blow to the 27 million EU workers whose jobs are connected to the sector.
“The crisis in the tourism sector is deeper than we could imagine two months ago,” said Isabel Oliver, Spain’s secretary of state for tourism. “The sector was one of the first to suffer the consequences of the crisis and will be one of the last to recover,” she added.
“Nobody knows exactly how to do this,” he told CNN in an interview earlier this month.
It proposed lifting travel restrictions between countries where outbreaks are contained, encouraged the use of contact tracing apps, and recommended a new voucher system to protect travel operators from exposure to widespread cancellations.
Airports hold the key
But such measures are necessary to restore confidence before a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available, said World Travel and Tourism Council CEO Gloria Guevara. “The most critical piece is the airports,” she told CNN Business.
The World Travel and Tourism Council is working with governments and travel organizations to agree on standardized health checks and cleaning protocols. It expects to issue guidelines for the hospitality industry this week with guidance for airports to follow.
“A quick and effective restart of travel will only happen if governments around the world agree to a common set of health protocols developed by the private sector,” Guevara said in a statement.
Even if that does happen, international tourist arrivals are predicted to be virtually nonexistent this year.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates a decline of as much as 80% from 2019, depending on how long travel restrictions remain in place. That compares with a 0.4% decline during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and a 4% drop in 2009 following the global financial crisis.
“This is by far the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began [in 1950],” the UN body said in a statement last week. “The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first.”
Domestic travel offers glimmer of hope
There are some early signs that domestic travel is gradually picking up again in certain countries, although it’s too soon to call a recovery.
China began to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions in March, after the country’s near complete shutdown in late January. More than 30% of domestic airline capacity has returned since March 1, according to aviation analytics company, Cirium.
“Green shoots in the Chinese domestic market … is a positive sign for short-haul travel recovery,” the company said in a research note. “It’s clear that, as some travel restrictions ease, it will be the domestic market which will start to return first.”
But flight cancellations remain elevated and the recovery has plateaued, suggesting consumer confidence has not yet been fully restored, Cirium added.
Marriott said Monday that occupancy at its hotels in Greater China reached 25% in April, up from less than 10% in mid February. Meituan Dianping, an app that allows consumers to shop, order food and book trips, recorded increased spending on local tourist attractions, and a pickup in hotel and bed and breakfast bookings last month.
But that doesn’t mean a full recovery will be achieved anytime soon, and China’s experience could cause other countries to reopen with even greater caution. The International Air Transport Association said Wednesday that it does not expect average trip distances to recover to 2019 levels for at least the next five years.
With “staycations” expected to spearhead the sector’s eventual revival, countries that rely more heavily on domestic and regional visitors will fare better.
At the top of this list are the United States, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, India, the Philippines, Germany and the United Kingdom, where domestic tourism accounts for more than 80% of total travel and tourism spending, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Asia Pacific has the largest regional travel market, which bodes well for some islands, such as the Maldives and Fiji, assuming tourists choose destinations that are closer to home. Countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, which both derive more than 20% of their GDP from travel and tourism, could also benefit. Visitors from Asia accounted for nearly 70% of all tourist arrivals in Thailand in 2018, according to Bangkok Bank.
Chinese tourists spend most on world travel, accounting for one fifth of international tourism spending in 2018, or $277 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization. Tourists from the United States follow at $144 billion.
With journeys to international destinations expected to recover last, small business owners like Gavriel, whose patrons travel long distances to come to Greece, face an uncertain future.
— Elinda Labropoulou, Nic Robertson, Laura Perez Maestro and Sherisse Pham contributed reporting.