Execs plead for consistency on Covid travel regulations

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Panelists, clockwise from top left: Gloria Guevara of the WTTC, Christoph Wolff of the World Economic Forum, Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association, Fang Liu of ICAO, moderator Richard Quest and Luis Araujo of the European Tourism Commission.
Panelists, clockwise from top left: Gloria Guevara of the WTTC, Christoph Wolff of the World Economic Forum, Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association, Fang Liu of ICAO, moderator Richard Quest and Luis Araujo of the European Tourism Commission.

Travel industry leaders at a virtual summit hosted by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) called for global consistency when it comes to regulations surrounding Covid-19.

"International organizations have failed us," said WTTC CEO Gloria Guevara during the event, called One Voice: To Recovery and Beyond. 

As an example, she said, a regional director from the World Health Organization might give conflicting messages on the same day. "In the morning it's ok to travel, in the afternoon it's better to quarantine," she said. "How do we fix that? We have that problem with many international organizations that deal with governments."

But moderator Richard Quest, the CNN International correspondent, called such inconsistencies "inevitable," and said "you can talk about coordination all you like; it's never going to happen."

This is evident even within the same country, at least when it comes to the U.S.

"Unfortunately, we're the un-United States of America," said Roger Dow the CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "I'm in Florida -- Florida is wide open, Disney World is open. California is shut down for three weeks; Disneyland is closed.

"We have to solve this thing," he said. "I'm concerned we're getting to pandemic fatigue and people will not put up with this.

"It's a case of a national emergency and a global emergency," Dow continued. "We have to bring people together and say, 'we are going to solve this and have one common protocol.' It has to happen. Now it's just patchwork."

Luis Arajuo, the CEO of Visit Portugal and president of the European Travel Commission, said that part of the problems rested with the travel industry.

"We have a lack of coordination, because we spent too much time speaking between ourselves," he said. "We chose the wrong people to speak to. We need solutions, and we need to discuss them with local governments, national governments and health authorities."

Araujo added that as helpful as a vaccine will be, there will still need to be effective rules and protocols in place for travel.

"The vaccine is not enough," he said. "There will be a Covid-20, 21 and 22. We need protocols for people to travel safely. Or else we will be here with the same problems next year."

Dow added that another hurdle that has to be overcome is that governments are waiting for the risk to be lower than what the public expects. He used the example of terrorism, saying that people travel even though the threat of terror is there. "There are always risks. We have to have a layered approach: vaccines, testing, protocols at hotels. We've got to get all of that in place," he said. "And there will be risk. There are going to be some cases. But we have got politicians that want to go to zero risk, and the world doesn't work that way."

Panelist Christoph Wolff, head of mobility industries for the World Economic Forum, said that government officials are always going to be risk-averse and will put the health of their citizens first.

"You can ask for consistency but at the end of the day, it's a sovereign decision by each country," he said.

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