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​Travel restrictions may last for years, China's tourism spend may dry up
Published on: 2021-05-26
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Travel may never be the same again post-pandemic, says a Barclays report released on Tuesday. Restrictions such as testing requirements and vaccine passports may make travel more expensive and bureaucratic for many years to come, even after developed economies have achieved "herd immunity".

Countries dependent on Chinese travellers - including Thailand and Vietnam, within the South-east Asian region - could be especially affected, as tourism earnings from China are likely to be structurally reduced. Emerging markets that follow a tourism-led growth model may face long-term disruption.

The setback will leave deep scars, with global mobility - namely, travel and tourism - having directly powered about 10 per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product) before the pandemic, said the report. The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has projected that pre-pandemic levels of travel are unlikely to return until 2026.

As at February this year, some 142 economies had their borders either completely or partially closed to foreigners, according to figures by the World Tourism Organisation. This figure was as high as 189 in June 2020, and had fallen to as low as 93 in September 2020, before increasing again.

Even where borders have not been closed, many economies have imposed quarantine requirements - a key impediment to travel, since the standard quarantine period of 14 days (or even 21 days, of late) is likely longer than most pre-Covid travel.

Such controls cut both ways, discouraging outbound as well as inbound travel. This makes it important for both source and destination economies to open their borders and remove quarantine requirements at the same time.

But with the pace of vaccinations likely to remain uneven around the world, together with substantial uncertainty over the efficacy of vaccines against new variants, the analysts said governments are likely to remain cautious even after fully inoculating their people.

Vaccine passports, which offer proof of an individual's vaccination status, may become visas of the future. This suggests that developed economies, which are further ahead in their vaccine rollouts, will be among the first to restart travel; while emerging economies lag behind.

Even then, there are multiple vaccine passports being considered worldwide - a piecemeal approach that risks incompatibility. And the need for vaccination will add complexity and cost to travel.

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