27 September 2020

COVID-19 has severely impacted all aspects of the tourism industry, including its economic, environmental and social components. The Policy Brief: COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism, issued recently by the United Nations Secretary-General, describes the severe, negative effects of the pandemic on global tourism, including job loss, the depletion of natural resources, worsening quality of life for women in the workforce and a lack of world heritage site protection. The Policy Brief also emphasizes the need to rebuild tourism based on the five priorities set out below.

1. Managing the crisis and mitigating the socioeconomic impact on livelihoods

The Policy Brief emphasizes the importance of effective communication between government, industry operators and the community for developing recovery strategies. Social dialogue is an essential requirement for creating strong policies and safety protocols. The Republic of Korea handled its COVID-19 cases quickly and effectively, having learned from the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. The Government made adjustments in the health-care system, especially in the areas of universal health coverage implementation, support for medical staff, and the creation of more efficient communication channels among responsible parties, including the President’s office. These changes allowed the Government to make prompt and effective decisions. In addition, advanced technology and media were used to trace contacts and minimize the further spread of the virus.

Ecuador was the first country in the Andean region to reopen its borders to commercial international flights, initially with the requirement of a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test and a quarantine period. The Government has required PCR tests since mid-August 2020 and has created a “safety corridor” for travellers to the Galapagos Islands.

The Policy Brief discusses “Reopening Tourism for Travelers with Disabilities”, a document that offers relevant guidance for promoting inclusion. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), older adults, pregnant women, persons with allergies and families with young children could benefit from the further development of accessible tourism. Accessible tourism is a promising industry and represents a large, inclusive market with practical significance for all populations. Tourist destinations that meet accessibility requirements and regard that as a positive measure enhance the tourism experience and contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all residents and visitors in the post-COVID-19 era.

Although QR code menu apps, virtual reality travel brochures and touchless payment systems were available prior to the pandemic, they are now becoming more important for hotel operators, property owners and guests. 

2. Boosting competitiveness and building resilience

The Policy Brief highlights the importance of rethinking the structure of tourism economies to boost their competitiveness and flexibility through investments in education and skills development. The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (ICHRIE) has produced a series of webinars to share information with hospitality and tourism educators on how to deal with data related to recovery scenarios.

Furthermore, the Policy Brief stresses the significance of promoting domestic and regional tourism. Recently, Hokkaido Prefecture in Japan launched a grant programme to promote local resident travel within its territory. The funds subsidize the tourism providers’ operating costs, thus reducing customers’ travel expenses. This microtourism model supports the sustainability of local businesses, minimizes the spread of the virus by limiting transportation requirements, develops resident pride and promotes travel.1

3. Advancing innovation and the digitalization of the tourism ecosystem

The recovery of tourism will not be possible without the help of innovative technology. Although QR code menu apps, virtual reality travel brochures and touchless payment systems were available prior to the pandemic, they are now becoming more important for hotel operators, property owners and guests. Data mining and machine learning techniques should also be further implemented to re-engage with travelers and customers.

The University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in partnership with Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, challenged students in hospitality programmes around the world to develop strategies for tourism recovery. A total of 29 entries from 32 tourism and hospitality schools introduced solutions that can immediately incorporate, measure effectively and, ideally, improve operations while providing essential assistance on the road to recovery.

4. Fostering sustainability and inclusive green growth

The Policy Brief introduces an opportunity to realign the tourism industry with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through the “Tourism for SDGs” interactive platform and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. According to the United Nations Environment Programme and UNWTO, a green economy is defined as a driving force for improving quality of life and social equity, accompanied by protected natural environments. Thanks to the advancement of green technology and innovations, numerous opportunities have become available for the tourism industry to transform itself into a responsible and sustainable sector of the world economy. For example, using the Internet of Things, including smart devices, hotel operators can personalize environmental conditions, such as in-room temperature, water usage and room cleaning order, based on guest preferences, thereby increasing efficiency and eliminating waste.2 Hilton set a long-term sustainability goal to halve its environmental impact through green technologies by 2030.3 In 2017, Marriott launched Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction, a sustainability and social impact platform, with the goal of reducing water and carbon intensity and using renewable energy by 2025.4

Professor Ki-Joon Back, University of Houston, United States of America.

In another example, Hotel Icon in Hong Kong reduced the use of plastic water bottles by installing a purified water filtering system and offering recycled carafes and glassware for each guestroom. The Sands Corporation strives to reduce food waste by leveraging behavioural science to change the habits that lead to waste generation in the first place. Using effective food waste tracking and measuring and the inventory kitchen management system, the corporation is able to reduce over-buying and provide new trays in employee dining rooms.

5. Strengthening coordination and partnerships to transform tourism and achieve the SDGs

The Policy Brief states that “the future of tourism depends on building partnerships at all levels”. Response and proactive coordination among various players in this battle are critical. According to the “World Economic Outlook” update report, published in June 2020 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the response packages from numerous Governments have amounted to around $11 trillion. The funds are used for saving lives and protecting the livelihoods of those directly hit by COVID-19. In addition, McKinsey reports that G20 nations have announced fiscal measures averaging 11 per cent of GDP, with some countries committing up to 40 per cent of GDP to their economic stimulus packages.

The Government of Jamaica has allocated $1.2 billion in grants to businesses operating in tourism and related sectors. Finland allocated €5.5 billion to support a sustainable emergence from the crisis; some of those funds can be used to recover and further develop nature tourism, including protecting green areas, water services and forest conservation.

Some developed countries have pledged to support developing and low-income countries in several funding modules and special projects designed to assist with recovery from the financial crisis. For example, Germany promised to spend €68 million on 29 projects in 25 countries and support 16 implementing partners of the International Climate Initiatives. Numerous international cooperation initiatives have already been announced to support the most vulnerable countries. For instance, IMF collaborates with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other partners with a budget of up to $643 million for the development of innovative solutions to assist countries in the Pacific region recovering from the current economic crisis.

Lastly, some private companies are working with Governments to recover and advance business initiatives that will benefit the local community. Kangwon Land Resort in the Republic of Korea has created 236 jobs, hiring local elderly people, residents with disabilities and women, using innovative projects to revitalize the community. Hilton collaborates with state and federal authorities on loans for the industry to prevent layoffs and hotel closings.

In conclusion, the “Policy Brief: COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism” provides tremendous opportunities for how policymakers, industry partners and communities can work in harmony to overcome the current crisis. Dean Kaye Chon at Hong Kong Polytechnic University has pointed out that “the Chinese word for crisis has two components—danger and opportunity”. Focusing on coordination and partnerships to achieve all 17 SDGs may create new opportunities in the tourism sector for advancing sustainable development and the Paris Agreement.


1Kacey Gambin, “What is Dominwari? New Hokkaido style? Go to campaign Japan?”, Vacation Niseko, 26 June 2020. Available at https://vacationniseko.com/news/what-is-dominwari-new-hokkaido-style-go-to-campaign-japan.

2Zvjezdana Gavrilović and Mirjana Maksimović, “Green innovations in the tourism sector”, Strategic Management, vol. 23, No.1 (May 2018), (38)36-42. Available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cb49/12c35cd1a1659eff07407fe14417fa2e788e.pdf.

3Hilton, "Travel with purpose", Hilton 2019 Corporate Responsibility Report (McLean, Virginia, 2019), p.p. 8, 25 and 64. Available at: https://cr.hilton.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Hilton-2019-CR-Report.pdf.

4Marriott International, 2019 Serve 360 Highlights: Sustainability and Social Impact at Marriot International (2019), p. 6 Available at: http://serve360.marriott.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019_Serve_360_Highlights.pdf.  

The UN Chronicle  is not an official record. It is privileged to host senior United Nations officials as well as distinguished contributors from outside the United Nations system whose views are not necessarily those of the United Nations. Similarly, the boundaries and names shown, and the designations used, in maps or articles do not necessarily imply endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.