The impact of COVID-19 on world tourism: the Cuban scenario

The adverse world scenario that has been configured by the pandemic has a multilateral effect on the economic, political and social life of the world and Cuba does not escape the consequences of this scourge

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged humanity into a distressing tragedy. The loss of human life, the collapse of many health systems, people’s anxiety about what is to come, the uncertainty about the short-term eradication of this transmission, and then the impact on the economy.

An abrupt fall in production and employment, a decrease in supply -sometimes of essential goods- and a rapid transmission of the effect through growing demand, the breaking of global production and distribution chains, among other elements, are shown to be the results of a crisis that has reached all countries.

Photo: Kunze

The figures to close this 2020 reveal a global economic debacle. The United Nations has estimated an adjustment in the already modest growth of global output expected and has suggested that a contraction of almost 1%, and even more, will occur if the conditions of confinement continue indefinitely and without a visible strategy.

The World Trade Organization already predicts a decline in world trade in goods with scenarios ranging from 13% to 32%, and predicts a decline in services from travel and transportation constraints.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), for its part, initially forecasts almost 25 million unemployed as a result of the epidemic. Meanwhile, reports from different NGOs suggest that 500 million people could fall into poverty, including the threat of nearly 120 million workers in the tourism sector.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has published in a recent analysis that airlines may lose around EUR 55 billion in bookings by 30 June 2020. This situation is mainly due to the sharp drop in demand.

It is in this adverse scenario that the tourism movement has suffered a hard blow.

Consulted the April edition of the UNWTO Barometer of the World Tourism Organization warns that “international tourism could fall from 60 to 80 percent in 2020 as a result of the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus pandemic, which causes covid-19 disease, the worst crisis this sector has faced since records began seventy years ago.

According to UNWTO’s own analysis, the decline in travel in the first quarter was 22%, which means some 67 million fewer international tourists, which translates into US$80 billion in travel losses.

Faced with forecasts and variables on a possible recovery of the global tourism industry, it is very difficult to bring them closer to reality because the world is in a state of shock after the tremendous psychological and sociological impact of confinement, key factors in predicting possible future scenarios in tourism. However, the predictions made by the UNWTO and the prestigious Global Journey Consulting Company assess different scenarios based on probability algorithms, which place it in the short term, with signs of recovery in the last quarter of 2020, but especially in 2021.

Taking previous crises as a starting point, leisure travel, especially to visit friends and family, could recover faster than business travel. It is in this line that the greatest objectivity points to the fact that tourism demand would be national, that is, in the country itself. Domestic demand could show a faster recovery.

Cuba faces the immense challenge of containing the pandemic and preventing its expansion as the first element of its health strategy, and at the same time continuing with the operation of vital activities of the economy that allow the sustainability of the nation.

The recovery of the tourist sector in the country is not unaware of the real existence of the US blockade which prevents its citizens from travelling to the Greater Antilles in the first place and its airlines and cruise lines from carrying out commercial operations.
This, given the geographical proximity, would allow the entry of fresh foreign currency into the country. Donald Trump’s administration has added higher levels of aggressiveness in an attempt to cut off the channels of entry of the currency – travel, remittances, campaigns against the export of medical services – and Cuba’s access to fuel.

Denied this possibility, Cuban tourism authorities have designed, since before the outbreak of the epidemic, a strategy towards source markets that could potentially travel to the country. Today, many of these long-distance destinations such as China and Russia are impacted by the scourge of the virus.

However, as these markets themselves gradually begin to open their borders and air operations begin, tour operators will begin – with the requisite health security – to offer attractive leisure travel packages.

As conceived by the Cuban Government, a gradual opening to tourism after the country’s recovery has begun would have as its main objective to encourage national tourism, but this new scenario will still have to consider certain restrictive measures, derived from the experiences obtained after having faced the pandemic.

Undoubtedly, there has been a change in travel paradigms, in which the greatest enemy is uncertainty, and for this reason the transmission of a climate of confidence, security and creative promotion that legitimizes the social utility of travel will be the best tools to motivate the issuing markets.

Cuba has accumulated vast experience in confronting the hostility of the United States and numerous weather events, which has allowed it to rebuild its capacities in a short time and to put its hotel and extra-hotel infrastructure in optimal conditions.

The world has changed as a result of this pandemic, which came abruptly and has affected all continents. The world economy has slowed down abruptly, but the return to normalcy will be gradual.

Experts say it could take 12 to 18 months for the flow of travel around the world to recover to the levels recorded in 2019. The revival of world tourism will move in the same direction. In such a scenario, it will be necessary to consider the perception of security that the traveler brings to his or her tourist destination.

Tourism in Cuba is called to initiate the path of economic recovery, as it is a key sector that can impact on the development of the country. The authorities in this area have designed plans to prepare all their facilities for that moment.

Creativity in the proposals should be an incentive for the activation of travel, since the global economic contraction conditions the monetary flows in the hands of travelers. That will be the great challenge.

Author: Jose Valentín,