COVID-19 and reimagining the tourism economy

Photo of travellers wearing face masksTourism made up 10 percent of global GDP in 2019 and was worth almost $9 trillion 1, making the sector nearly three times larger than agriculture. However, the tourism value chain of suppliers and intermediaries has always been fragmented, with limited coordination among the small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) that make up a large portion of the sector. Governments have generally played a limited role in the industry, with partial oversight and light-touch management.

COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented crisis for the tourism industry. International tourist arrivals are projected to plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020, and tourism spending is not likely to return to pre-crisis levels until 2024. This puts as many as 120 million jobs at risk 2 .

Reopening tourism-related businesses and managing their recovery in a way that is safe, attractive for tourists, and economically viable will require coordination at a level not seen before. The public sector may be best placed to oversee this process in the context of the fragmented SME ecosystem, large state-owned enterprises controlling entry points, and the increasing impact of health-related agencies. As borders start reopening and interest in leisure rebounds in some regions, governments could take the opportunity to rethink their role within tourism, thereby potentially both assisting in the sector’s recovery and strengthening it in the long term.

In this article, we suggest four ways in which governments can reimagine their role in the tourism sector in the context of COVID-19.

  1. Streamlining public–private interfaces through a tourism nerve center
  2. Experimenting with new financing mechanisms
  3. Ensuring transparent, consistent communication on protocols
  4. Enabling a digital and analytics transformation within the tourism sector

This is an excerpt from an article by Margaux Constantin, Steve Saxon and Jackey Yu, originally published by McKinsey and Company

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