The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a substantial mess in the global economy. One of the most affected sectors by the pandemic is tourism and hospitality among many others. Also, international travel has been brought to an abrupt halt and this has significantly affected the tourism industry. Almost every country whether developed or developing, hosts tourists and visitors which is a source for government revenue as well as foreign exchange earnings.
Many countries will experience a dramatic decline in the GDP and also a rise in unemployment without this crucial remuneration from the travel industry. There is a fear that the tourism sector could be wiped out completely from some countries if the duration of the global shutdown is extended indefinitely. For a country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the tourism and hospitality industry is vital for maintaining the economy, even more after the beginning of the decline in oil prices.
Tourism is one of the bigger non-oil sources of revenue in the UAE, with iconic skylines, cutting-edge development, world-famous hotels and landmarks. Marquee attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the world’s highest building, Burj Al Arab, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, have symbolised the UAE as a destination for a lavish vacation. The country had obvious plans for increasing the flow of tourists in 2020, but then the pandemic happened and almost every country in the world closed international and regional boundaries to flatten the curve and thus reduce the spread.
Looking at the economy of UAE, the tourism and hospitality sector accounted for $43.3bn, which is 12.1 percent of total GPD in 2019, according to the data published by the official website of the UAE government. Likewise, the total contribution of the tourism and hospitality sector to employment, which includes also jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 10.4 per cent of total employment, which was 617,500 jobs. All these numbers are at stake because of the pandemic.
The situation right now is dire and the end of these stressful times is also uncertain. However, one thing is sure that how resilient the travel industry is and the desire of the people to travel is only going to increase. So, the government of the UAE has been thinking of promoting local tourism and domestic travel according to Arabian Travel Market, a virtual event that happened back in June 2020. Most of the plan of travellers for the first half of 2020 was cancelled, so to make up for the lost time and plans, they will want to travel and get away from their homes to a familiar place and just relax.
In preparation for the recovery of the tourism and hospitality industry in UAE, it is crucial that the travel and hospitality companies can provide guests with service implementing strict measures to maintain hygiene and deep cleaning procedures are done stringently. The key to the recovery plan in the tourism sector, not only in the UAE but all over the world, is to encourage local tourism and offer staycation packages with maximum safety measures.
The government of the UAE has established plans for tourism and hospitality institutions for maintaining safety standards. One of them is the ‘Dubai Assured’ stamp which is issued to hotels, F&B outlets and retail stores that have successfully implemented the required health protocols for preventing COVID-19. This initiative is to showcase Dubai as one of the world’s safest destinations to travel amidst the pandemic. The other plan is the ‘Go Safe’ certification programme, launched by the Department of Culture and Tourism, where hotels which meet the required hygiene standards will be provided with the certificates.
Also, all the required tests for COVID-19 will be taken of all the tourism and hospitality staff so that the UAE will be safe for travel. Sadly, the flow of international tourists is not going to increase any time soon. But the United Arab Emirate has been pushing efforts to adapt to this new ‘normal’ for travelling to attract international tourists as well. The steps that the government takes today will have a substantial impact on how the tourism and hospitality industry recovers. With that, the current pandemic, though ominous, presents us with an opportunity.