The coronavirus pandemic has become an unexpected hit in the year 2020. No one expected that the virus that originated from the wildlife market in the capital of China’s Hubei province, Wuhan, would spread all over the world. As of now, the virus has already infected more than 8 million people while the death toll nears the grim half a million mark. Many industries have been hit by the pandemic, with tourism remaining the most affected one.
As of now, there is no effective medical treatment or a vaccine available for the virus. The medical professionals are struggling to get some visible results delivered, amid the high pressure from governments, private sector, and individuals globally. Under such circumstances, the only known and practiced way of fighting against COVID-19 is social distancing. The practice is being used to physically distance persons, in efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
The biggest problem with this pandemic is that coronavirus, unlike others we had seen before, spreads much faster. For instance, if an average seasonal virus has a reproduction rate of one, with the coronavirus infection the R rate stands at around 3. This is an extremely high number, meaning that everyone infected can transmit the diseases to, on average, three others. The latter is what practically brought the tourism industry to a standstill.
Before the pandemic, the tourism industry was at its highest, with more people going abroad for travel than ever before. Holidaymakers were also spending more than ever, supporting local businesses, the transport sector, and individuals. However, with all of the tourism operations halted, there are barely any tourists to be seen. The experts from the very beginning announced that restricting mobility, especially international travel, would be the prime step in the fight against COVID-19.
The most significantly impacted sectors within the tourism industry are airlines, hotels, and SMEs. The air remains to be at the lowest point in more than half a century. The confined space in airliners makes it impossible to travel safely. Hotels, and especially those that operate casinos are an important part of many cities’ economic power. China’s Macau was locked down for a few days following the outbreak. However, the gambling industry, as a whole, managed to cope with the crisis better. Representatives of the online gambling operator, Playamo Canada, say that the traffic has been soaring throughout the lockdown. The Canadian operator says that besides the traffic from the North American country itself, they have also witnessed lots of interest from neighboring nations. SMEs, particularly cafes and bars were heavily impacted as well. They had to remain closed for more than 2 months, particularly in tourist areas such as Milano, Paris, and others. As a result, many of them were forced to file their own bankruptcies.
Is ecotourism the solution? Will 2020 be its year?
The tourism industry has evolved importantly throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries. However, the development of this sector has not been highly sustainable. Rather, with the emergence of ultra-cheap flights and the hostel culture, the new millennium became the start of the mass tourism era.
Millions of people visit overcrowded, famous tourist destinations all around the world. European cities are particularly struggling, being unable to handle an ever-growing number of visitors. Oftentimes, the number of international travelers visiting a particular city is much higher than the total population of the urban area. This is the case with the Czech capital of Prague. The historically significant city located in central Europe has a history of hundreds of years. Now, due to the cheap accommodation, food, and drinks, millions of tourists visit the city each and every year. The locals are so fed up with the overcrowded streets and increasing prices that the city is planning to limit short-term rental websites, such as Airbnb. Similar restrictions have been implemented in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and other major tourist destinations.
Amid the global pandemic, which requires being constantly alert while practicing social distancing, this kind of mass tourism is practically impossible. If we want to curb the spread of the virus, the tourist waves should be rearranged, covering larger areas of the world we have. A growing number of national governments are recommending their citizens to spend their time traveling domestically, instead of making international holidays. This advice stents regardless of whether the borders open or not. This could be one of the best solutions to the problem we are facing now as rural areas and regions in almost all countries are usually far behind major urban centers in terms of wealth and development.
Ecotourism implies visiting rural areas, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries without damaging any of it. The main aim is to leave as little footprint as possible. That is why ecotourists usually go through areas that are not visited by others frequently. This type of tourism provides an opportunity to enjoy the environment, relax, and explore something new without risking anyone’s life. Moreover, this could significantly ease the lives of rural populations. People visiting those areas would be spending money at local businesses, contributing to regional economic development.
This year most certainly is the right time to explore the potential of ecotourism in all countries. However, some will succeed more than others. For instance, many nations in central Asia and Africa have predominantly rural populations. People traveling from abroad will potentially not be allowed to enter those countries amid the fears that the potential widespread of the virus could result in devastating consequences in less fortunate nations. Therefore, it is expected that ecotourism will rise predominantly in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Countries in those areas offer lots of astonishing sites, while people are comparably more responsible with nature. The concept of ecotourism has already been quite popular across Europe. Having no borders across 27 nations, citizens of the European Union will be able to enjoy a whole variety of wildlife, environment, and rural sites.