The outbreak of COVID-19 has taken the world by a sudden storm. The unseen, yet omnipresent enemy in the form of the undetectable and incomprehensible virus, has in no time been recognized as extremely lethal, leading one country after the other to go into lockdown as a last defensive measure. COVID-19 has brought the world to a grinding halt!
Fast building into a ‘pandemic’, the outbreak has resulted in chaos in ‘lives and livelihoods’ of the global population. It has triggered new problems and challenges for countries to deal with. As per United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Tourism and Hospitality Industry is amongst one of the ‘hardest hit’ by COVID-19. The Socio Economic repercussions of COVID-19, closely intertwined with each other, have become visible in Tourism and Hospitality. Nations across the world are bearing the brunt of ramifications of the pandemic in the tourism industry in several forms, viz. stalling of all Industrial operations; mass unemployment (temporary and permanent) across all sectors of the economy; collapse of supply chain of Tourism Industry both in the director and indirect sector; problems of diaspora and ‘reverse migration’ of displaced labourers undertaking harrowing journeys in an attempt to get to their safe haven of ‘back home’ for good, with their lives at a ‘point of no return’, perhaps foretelling a future scenario of a build up of a huge vacuum of human resource in the ‘labor intensive’ Tourism sector and its supporting ancillary industries. Besides, the unprecedented catastrophe has shaken the confidence of businesses both directly and indirectly associated with tourism and has cast a dark shadow over future private investment in tourism, on which the industry remains highly dependent.
Faced with innumerable uncertainties a number of challenges now stare in the face of Tourism and Hospitality sector. The major challenge is of businesses going ‘defunct’ throughout the supply chain of the industry leading to millions of job layoffs.
With the labour now gone, there is looming uncertainty of ‘how’ and ‘when’ businesses could reopen and how the workforce could once again be reassured and motivated to return to work, after having suffered a painful plight i.e. economically, physically and psychologically as a result the sudden lockdown. A situation like this perhaps necessitates that for future some kind of new ‘Labor Protection Laws’ need to be framed perhaps under the guidance of International Labor Organization taking the lead. With respect to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of businesses, till date, primarily the focus has been on ‘environment’, but now the need is to have a shift towards ‘society’/’social’ responsibility (i.e. ‘people’, in the form of employees, local communities and consumers). Besides, the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing lockdowns have sparked off survival concerns for all types of businesses. Therefore, to reassure businesses that are largely indebted, burdened with financial liabilities, and are completely dependent on workforce in this labour intensive service industry, the governments would need to have in place ‘financial support policies’, particularly for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Time and again the globe continues to witness disasters, terrorism, and other crises. However, most of the times, a ‘reactive approach’ is adopted for disaster management, that takes a long time in restoring normalcy. Henceforth, it is vital for the highly vulnerable Tourism and Hospitality Industry to be ‘proactive’ in preparing in advance for ‘Force Majeure’ situations and ‘rethink’ policies of cancellation, insurance and refunds, in a manner that can both protect the financial situation of businesses and interests of consumers, along with maintaining long term consumer confidence in future dealings with tourism enterprises.
Regardless of the disasters that have befallen the globe, Tourism and Hospitality industry has time and again proven to emerge as ‘more resilient’, bouncing back fast through mere ingenuity and persistence of businesses and on account of the inherent curiosity and desire of mankind to carry on, keep travelling and exploring. The present COVID-19 situation should be no different and “This Too Shall Pass!”. The industry will be open for business once again and the tourists will resume travelling. However, restoring confidence of tourists and allaying their fears would certainly require concerted efforts from the industry players, the global media as well as the local and national administration. Nations will have to come together with collective will, efforts and determination to bring all sectors of the industry back on their feet and gradually open their doors with flashing sign of ‘Welcome’, for tourist once again.