As the world slowly starts to open up again to the idea of international events and travel, the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter by the day. Close collaboration between global institutions and national governments is key to laying out a roadmap for a safe and planned re-opening. During the 2021 ICCA Congress, three top representatives from world-renowned global institutions delivered their personal insights and perspectives into the future of business travel and tourism in this session commissioned by ICCA President James Rees.


The situation is improving

“We are in a better place than we were last year. This is far from over but we are establishing a new normal. Vaccination rates have increased around the world and there’s less opportunity for the virus to spread,” said Dr. Leonard Friedland, VP, Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health, GSK Vaccines.

When asked about vaccine rates in other countries, he warned that we needed to look at the current challenges as a global issue in order to keep moving forward. According to Dr Friedland, we as a global community need to work to make sure everyone has the opportunity to benefit from vaccination. “With proper planning, the ability for testing and just being smart about what we do, we can find a new equilibrium and we are going to be dealing with this for a number of years.” 

Looking ahead to the future, he said, “It’s not the same as before and I don’t think it will ever be the same, at least not for the next few years. I do hope that we get there but there are a lot of headwinds in this challenging time.”  


Cooperation is key

The aviation industry suffered losses during COVID-19, but international air travel to the US has almost returned to 2019 levels. Domestic traffic, which takes up nearly 50% of the market, recovered 77% compared to 2019. Oracio Marquez, IATA Regional Director of Membership and External Relations in Latin America and Caribbean described how IATA is working with governments to try and reopen markets and keep borders open while maintaining a level of safety and health. 

“Regaining or increasing demand for tourism will really require governments, industries and stakeholders to work together and identify opportunities to develop incentives wherever possible to regain passenger confidence and travel to attract these people back to their countries.” 

When talking about business travel he said, “Corporate travel sentiment is slowly improving. It’s a matter of facilitating without the level of restrictions that we are still experiencing. We think it will transition back to 2019 levels in 2023 or 2024.”

He advocated for further cooperation between industry, governments and regions to enable the industry’s recovery. “This will ultimately facilitate the removal of restrictions and allow for aviation and the wider travel and tourism sector to play a critical role that’s needed in the regions socially and economically to recover from this covid-19 situation that we are all experiencing. We want to get people flying again so whatever we can do to further promote that is our priority.”

He added, “There are many carriers that will not make it through this. We will certainly see changes evolving and we do see reports of airlines in South America or other parts of the world exploring mergers. There are many scenarios so it’s something to watch.” 


Connection is essential

“The five challenges that the tourism sector has are innovation, education, investments, added value jobs and sustainability. When we are talking about innovation the main factors of our job is improving the tourism innovation ecosystem. We need to improve the connection between governments, startups, investors, academia, institutions and the national governments,” said Natalia Bayona, UNWTO Director of Innovation, Education and Investments.

She said that over the past year, $22 billion has been invested in tourism startups but 80% of those who received investments were based in the US and China. Consequently, other countries are missing out. “We need to help the internationalisation process of entrepreneurs. We need to connect them with investors, with corporations, with governments.”

Tourism is a top employer of women. Only 50% of people working in tourism have secondary skills. ”If we don’t have people with professional certificates, if we don’t get the tools to help them access it, how can we preserve those jobs?” she asked. UNWTO has committed to adding 30,000 new students in their online UNWTO academy by developing partnerships with top universities. “If I am talking about innovation, it has to be aligned with education if we want value-adding jobs.”


Sustainability is a focus

Tourism decreased by 75% in 2020. The UNWTO wants to promote green investments to create sustainable, modern and inclusive cities, destinations and amusement parks committed to the environment and sustainability. “We need investment, but not any kind of investment. Green investments. We need economic incentives, tax incentives and everything related to political and legal stability. Most people think that being sustainable is about working with the environment and for the environment. Being sustainable is not only talking about the environment, it’s about working with communities, working with the most vulnerable people, working for inclusion, using technology for good, and of course to take care of our environment,” said Natalia.

“Educating people, improving innovation, working on added value jobs, and developing more modern, sustainable and innovative tourism will help us to recover this sector again, and to lead by example and by using resilience and using this high level network in order to improve the way that people live, the way people travel and the way people are educated.”