Although Barbados has “done well” in controlling the spread of COVID-19, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has warned of devastating losses in the tourism industry that remains the island’s main source of income.
According to an UNCTAD report, COVID-19 AND TOURISM: Assessing the economic consequences, published on Wednesday, the crash in international tourism due to the pandemic could cause a loss of more than US$4 trillion to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2020 and 2021 – even worse than projected a year ago.
While the report did not provide details on how Barbados would be specifically affected, it noted that depending on the importance of tourism for an economy, the falloff in the sector could cause an increase in unemployment of unskilled labour up to 15 per cent.
The report, jointly presented with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), noted that the asymmetric rollout of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries and tourism recovery would depend largely on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines globally.
“Tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries, many of which are highly dependent on international tourism,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant added: “The world needs a global vaccination effort that will protect workers, mitigate adverse social effects and make strategic decisions regarding tourism, taking potential structural changes into account.”
The report noted that international tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of US$2.4 trillion in 2020 due to direct and indirect impacts of a steep drop in international tourist arrivals.
Even with improved vaccination rates, said the UNWTO, and a rebound in the second half of this year, experts do not expect a return to pre-COVID-19 international tourist arrival levels until 2023 or later.
The report still shows a loss of between US$1.7 trillion and US$2.4 trillion in 2021, compared with 2019 levels.
It identified the main barriers as travel restrictions, slow containment of the virus, low traveller confidence and a poor economic environment.
The report’s only mention of Barbados was in its discussion on COVID-19 vaccination and the uneven prospects for tourism.
“In most developing countries, access to and distribution of vaccines is a limiting factor, and the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate in India, Brazil, and in many countries where tourism is important for people’s livelihood such as Maldives and Seychelles. On the other hand, other countries where tourism is an important sector such as Thailand, Morocco, and Barbados, appear to have done well in controlling the spread,” it said.
The results of the study conducted by UNCTAD were based on simulations that capture the effects of international tourism reduction only, not policies such as economic stimulus programmes that may soften the pandemic’s impact on the sector.
The report assesses the economic effects of three possible scenarios – all reflecting reductions in international arrivals – in the tourism sector in 2021.
The most pessimistic forecast was a 75 per cent reduction in international tourist arrivals, based on the tourist reductions observed in 2020, which would see global tourist receipts drop by US$948 billion which translates into a loss in real GDP of US$2.4 trillion.
The second scenario reflects a 63 per cent reduction in international tourist arrivals, while the third scenario, considers varying rates of domestic and regional tourism in 2021 and assumes a 75 per cent reduction of tourism in countries with low vaccination rates, and a 37 per cent reduction in countries with relatively high vaccination rates.
According to UNWTO, international tourist arrivals declined by about 1 billion or 73 per cent between January and December 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer pointed to a decline of 88 per cent. (DP)