Up to 60 million tourism jobs could be under threat if swine flu descends into a global pandemic, and the tourism economy could lose US$2.2 trillion over the next two years, according to new forecasts from World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
Speaking at an emergency session held at the 9th Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Florianopolis, Brazil, WTTC economist, Amir Girgis, said: “In a worst case scenario, the figures show that the magnitude of a downturn could be 25 to 30 per cent as a result of a pandemic. That’s not H1N1 [swine flu] as it is now, but if it got much worse then it could cost up to 60 million jobs.”
But the overriding message to emerge from the intense debate was that the industry should maintain remain level-headed, not fuel the panic, and encourage travellers to keep travelling.
WTTC chairman Geoffrey Kent told delegates to look at the long-term. “Don’t worry about the credit crunch. It will go away. Don’t be discouraged by world events. They’ll sort themselves out. They always do. Don’t be discouraged by swine flu. It’s all overblown anyway,” he said.
Leaders at the Summit also called upon governments to re-energize their respective tourism sectors by forming public-private partnerships, and providing the necessary legislative frameworks and financial support for the industry to rebound strongly from its current woes.
“What we need is leaders in the world who are convinced about the importance of travel and tourism as a key industry and contributor to every country’s GDP,” said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC President & CEO. “The passion of President Lula da Silva of Brazil is a model how public-private partnerships in tourism can be formed.”
The Brazilian President made a special address to inaugurate the Summit. He urged tourism leaders to invest in his country, which he described as a haven of economic stability while the rest of the globe was suffering.
He said: “The worst of the economic crisis has already happened for our country. In March we started to see a recovery in the economy… (and) we have a great demand for domestic tourism.”
The president highlighted the fact that infrastructure investments in roads and airports will boost Brazil’s potential as a tourism destination. Currently, tourism turns over US$40 billion for the Brazilian economy and creates around six million job opportunities a year.
The Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, in particular, emerged as the star of the weekend, as its untapped tourism potential was showcased to travel leaders from across the globe.
Jean-Claude Baumgarten said: “Santa Catarina must be one of the region’s best-kept tourism secrets since few outside Latin America - or perhaps even Brazil - are aware of its unparalleled diversity in terms of landscapes, cultures and people.”
Tourism generates an estimated 12.5% of the state’s GDP, or US$6.4 billion and nearly 510,000 jobs (11.9% of total employment) in 2009. Tourism is also forecast to grow 4.5% a year over the next decade.
“We hope that by raising awareness of the enormous potential of travel & tourism in Santa Catarina, this will act as a catalyst, encouraging industry and government to work together even more than they are doing today, in order to assure the necessary conditions for this potential to be realised,” he added.
And it is the public-private partnership undertaken by Santa Catarina and Brazil that could serve as a blueprint for how other countries and regions could develop their travel and tourism sectors as they emerge from these troubled times.