Your Excellencies, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Secretaries of State,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s with great pleasure, that I participate in this High-Level event and I would like to thank OECD and the Government of Spain, and personally, Minister Maria Reyes Maroto Illera for hosting this meeting and for welcoming all delegations.
- Tourism generates foreign exchange, supports jobs and businesses, drives regional development and underpins local communities. COVID-19 caused more than 70% decline year-on-year in travel demand for the whole 2020, with a loss in tourism export revenues, ten times more than that recorded in 2009 amid the global financial crisis (UNWTO data). The health crisis put millions of jobs in the tourism sector at risk as well as the economic wellbeing and sustainable change opportunities for destinations and countries.
- The Greek State significantly backed the major airports of the country, including the International Airport of Athens, to repair the economic damages caused by the pandemic so as to ensure their smooth operation after the easing of travel restrictions. With the permission of the European Commission, as being compatible with the regime of national subsidies under the pressure of the health crisis, Aegean Airlines were given a State grant amounting to 120mil€ to safeguard its survival and precious job positions. In addition, a bonus is given to air traffic controllers in order to boost their productivity, resulting in a smooth air traffic flow and greater accuracy to the benefit and great satisfaction of both travellers and operators.
- The relevant challenges are linked to strengthen cooperation and coordination at international level to improve seamless travel for a secure and smooth flow of travellers and ensure safe and seamless tourism experiences at destinations, for the benefit of tourists and residents.
- All aspects for a seamless, sustainable, and digital transition of tomorrow’s tourism are strongly interrelated and call for real progress on tourism data set integration and data sharing as well as innovation not only for the digital transformation of tourism, but also for the creation of sustainable and resilient international mobility systems to ensure preparedness against future global crises.
- In this respect, I would like to thank the Indonesian G20 Presidency for including in the agenda the issue of coordinating health protocols for travel at global level.
- According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism experienced a 182% year-on-year increase in January-March 2022, with destinations worldwide welcoming an estimated 117 million international arrivals compared to 41 million in Q1 2021.
- The trend towards destinations taking evidence-based approaches to restrictions reflects the evolving nature of the pandemic and it also helped to restore confidence in travel while helping keep residents, tourists and tourism workers safe.
- The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects Report for 2022 has noted that in both developed and developing countries, recovery from the impacts of the pandemic is “uneven and fragile”, while there remains a large variation in recovery levels of cross border travels between regions given, inter alia, the war against Ukraine and the energy crisis that followed.
- A major lesson acquired by the pandemic, as recognised by the World Health Organisation, was that measures applied to international travellers such as testing, isolation and quarantine, and vaccinations, should be based on risk assessments and avoid placing the financial burden on international travellers. In any case, when it comes to stopping the spread of new virus variants, blanket travel restrictions are counterproductive.
- As the European Tourism Convention, OECD initiatives and the UNWTO Global Crisis Committee deliberations have demonstrated, to restore traveller confidence, we have to ensure that we coordinate our approach to COVID-19 risks and any kind of health risks, to promote evidence-based containment measures and, of course, refrain from or limit to the maximum extent possible the use of blanket travel restrictions.
- As the pandemic has shown, it is crucial to adopt data-driven approaches at global level and up-skill and re-skill programmes to improve visitor handling, information, management, and personalisation of tourism experience. Furthermore, there is a necessity to capitalize on ICT solutions to enhance connectivity and accessibility at countries and destinations, through promoting functional interoperability of health status credentials.
- The travel and tourism private sector must also increasingly adapt and facilitate travel, by offering flexible bookings, payment terms, or changes, and affordable or higher value products to provide incentives for domestic and international travel.
- Within this framework, the work of the European Commission, OECD, UNWTO, ICAO and the whole international travel and tourism community to respond to the crisis and support the recovery and resilience of the sector was of paramount importance both to lobbying – to ensure the sector receives the political and financial support needed – and to data-driven policy decision-making levels to coordinate response measures that allowed tourism to recover and thus drive the international economy.
- Concerted action to support the reactivation of travel and tourism focused on innovative, at that time, coordinative ways to restore unrestricted mobility at global scale, as the only means to ensure a shift recovery of the travel and tourism sector, much needed for the international and our national economies, ensuring safely resuming of tourism services while offering tourists the confidence to travel again.
- Thus, from day 1, Greece both at European level and by its capacity as a Chair of the UNWTO Commission for Europe, stressed the importance of the vaccination certificate, as a “key point” of the wider project of opening up travel and tourism.
- With the adoption of the EU Digital COVID Certificate, not an easy procedure, the fastest possible restoration of the freedom of movement of tourists was attained, both within the EU and on travel to and from third countries, with continuous efforts to harmonise travel protocols worldwide.
- According to market sources, the -comparatively- highly successful performance of Greece in 2021 was to some extent due to having announced early on the way it will open up to international tourism, which gave operators, clients and airlines a minimum level of confidence in planning.
- As far as the success story of the Greek tourism recovery is concerned, there is a broad acceptance on the following key learnings:
- A closer partnership of the private and public sector was established, which resulted to the soft re-opening of the Greek travel industry, with safety, professionalism and strict protocols that were implemented in an exemplary manner. This partnership had a positive impact on the brand equity of Greece.
- The codesign of industry support measures focused on three main pillars: employment, taxation and liquidity (eg. the state subsidy programme for part-time labor, known as Syn-Ergasia). These support measures helped the Greek tourism businesses against the risk of bankruptcy, allowing them to preserve their economic activity and recover after the coronavirus crisis.
- Through the campaign 2021 “All You Want Is Greece”, a lasting expectation was created. The aim was to highlight the uniqueness of Greece and to create a desire (for travel) that can be fulfilled for all.
- The effectiveness of the “EVA” system was confirmed, an innovative distribution control test sampling system, which doubled the effectiveness of control tests.
- Summarising the longer-term lessons of COVID-19 for resilient and safe international travel, we would suggest it is imperative to:
- Improve risk assessment and adopt a risk-based approach to sustainably reopening international mobility.
- Increasingly strengthen coordination mechanisms, relying on scientific evidence for policy-making.
- Prepare in-depth people, destinations and the industry to confront future shocks.
- Promote a solid international leadership for travel and tourism to be included as a priority in global recovery efforts, while ensuring multilateral engagement for a continuous sharing of epidemiological information.
- Place travel and tourism and the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of the recovery efforts to advance resilient travel and tourism.
- Empower people and the industry to adopt new work and operation processes, invest in digital transformation, and boost innovation ecosystems related to safe and seamless travel.
- Develop effective management and marketing strategies to restore visitors’ confidence and public perception, ensuring transparency to travellers, the industry and other countries on the measures adopted each time.
- Promote inclusion and accessibility for international mobility as a basic principle and retain privacy as a core value: increased digitalization of personal health information should adhere to the principle of data minimization.
On this occasion, I would like to thank Indonesian G20 Presidency, OECD and the Spanish Government for their commitment and engagement to the international efforts to build the foundations for resilient, seamless and safe travel and tourism.