Never before in the history of the world had the Travel and Tourism Industry experienced an apocalyptic scenario which threatens its very existence. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused as yet unquantified damage to the whole supply chain of the industry. Tourism today must be protected. How this will happen in view of the parlous state of public finances needs careful study.
The major casualty has been the airline industry. Aircrafts that are designed to fly and stay in the air as long as possible are grounded with ghastly consequences on the morale of the employees, revenue and an uncertain future. The heavyweight carriers like Air France, British Airways, Emirates are operating between 5 to 10 % of their regular flights. But their fixed costs remain unchanged and, unless Governments across the world take strong measures, airlines will suffer even more.
IATA, the international body that regulates airlines has estimated that the shortfall in revenue for airlines will be in the region of + USD 300 billion. There is gloom in the airline industry and the time when doom makes its entry is not far. All airlines, from the major long-haul carriers to the low cost short-haul ones are seeking assistance from their respective Governments. Airlines will simply not survive without such assistance. In our region, South African Airlines has collapsed with terrible outcome for employees, the banks, the whole spectrum of the supply chain from the airports, duty free shops and taxis. etc.
During the recent May holidays in China, the air traffic was only one third of what it was during the same period last year. This is replicated in other countries where flights are allowed. People are afraid of travelling and, even if they will travel, they are unlikely initially to venture far from their countries. In fact, European countries are opening their borders only to Europeans. Others are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. This measure alone will keep people from travelling.
In such a situation what can a distant tourism destination like Mauritius do to sustain its tourism industry? No one can dispute the importance of tourism in the economy not only as a generator of foreign exchange but also as an engine for employment creation and retention with a considerable multiplier effect on the service sector.
Already before the advent of the Coronavirus, a great deal of attention was being heaped on air travel as a major polluter and contributor towards global warming. The footprint of air travel is high and everything must be done to mitigate carbon emissions by, inter alia, having more efficient aircrafts and reviewing airline international routes. Besides, the debate was not so much about sustainable tourism as over-tourism. In other words there were risks associated with tourism about which small destinations like ours are helpless. The media is gloating over the drop in carbon emissions since Covid-19 forced a lockdown. There will be pressure on airlines about this and the young people who are very sensitive about the impact of air travel on the environment might choose alternatives.
What can be done and how what can be done will bring hope and value to our tourism industry? There are several pundits in tourism who are uncharacteristically silent at present. Without, in any way suggesting anything adverse about all the institutions that are engaged with the industry, Mauritius needs all ideas, views and strategies which will bring tourism from the brink.
Mauritius has no other option for its tourism sector than to depend on airlines to bring tourists. The cruise ships will most probably avoid the small Indian Ocean destinations.
There are solutions which can be proposed to remedy the situation.