Leading associations that represent the global travel agency community have joined forced to call on government leaders to expedite the lifting of all country and region-specific travel bans.
The plea comes after several countries – Canada included – implemented travel bans on several countries in South Africa after scientists there first identified the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Government-led decisions to restrict travel from South African countries came quickly, even as data suggests that the Omicron variant was circulating in Europe before it was discovered in South Africa.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) in Canada, alongside the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), the Association of South African Travel Agencies (ASATA), the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA) and the World Travel Agents Associations Alliance (WTAAA) issued a collective statement on Dec. 10, noting how closing borders and implementing new restrictions “affects untold millions of employees in the travel and tourism industry.”
The group, collectively, represents hundreds of thousands of people who work at travel agencies and related businesses around the world, the statement said.
“When elected officials make public policy decisions in the interest of public health, those governments have an obligation to provide financial resources to those industries and individuals most affected by their decisions,” the statement says. “It also is putting already vulnerable businesses at further risk from ever recovering, while government revenues continue to be eroded due to the loss of economic activity from the industry, which represents one in every ten jobs globally according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.”
The statement is signed by Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA; Zane Kerby, President & CEO, ASTA; Otto de Vries, CEO, ASATA; Lars Thykier, president, WTAAA; Eric Drésin, secretary general, ECTAA and Vanessa Ledesma-Berrios, acting CEO & director general, CHTA.
Recent and more stringent border closures have “severely impacted” already-complex international travel, the group said.
“We collectively call on global government leaders to follow the best available science when determining border measures, including testing and prohibitions,” they said. “Many countries follow strong biosecurity protocols, including masking, social distancing, and vaccination requirements.”
“The addition of new border measures has significant economic impacts on travel and tourism businesses that may not add additional community protection.”
It is critical that government policy is “guided by science, not political pressure” or the desire to be seen as “doing something” since travel restrictions have “significant, sometimes irreversible impact” on businesses and jobs.
“We implore governments to take responsibility for their actions by sustaining travel reliant businesses until such time as they lift restrictions and normal travel patterns re-emerge,” the group said. “Thus far, government responses to this economic factor have been uneven at best.”
The group highlighted the fact that Canada has pledged support for travel-reliant businesses in that country through May of 2022, urging other global leaders to follow their lead.
Bans “cause severe economic harm"
The World Health Organization (WHO) has continued to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
This is line with the most recent European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) science-based analysis, confirming that travel restrictions generally have no effective impact on the spread of the virus in Europe.
“Governments around the world must prioritize the global distribution of vaccines while continuing to support the freedom of movement using the scientifically tested and sensible measures – masking, enhanced sanitation protocols, reasonable testing requirements and now, vaccination credentials,” the group said. “The global infrastructure to accommodate rapid turnaround times for PCR and other acceptable testing all within the span of a 24-hour timeline for results, is arduous in even the most advanced markets.”
Testing “needs to be widely available and affordable,” they added.
“It is the duty of governments worldwide to provide the resources and support the science-based approach to testing and vaccination requires,” they said.
Travel restrictions and outright bans “cause severe economic harm.”
In turn, ACTA, ASTA, ASATA, CHTA, ECTAA and WTAAA are calling on leaders around the world to “provide dedicated financial support for travel reliant businesses and to lift travel bans as quickly as possible.”
“Loosening restrictions on fully-vaccinated travellers for entry into the U.S. and other markets should continue to be a top priority, but more needs to be done to ensure that travel-reliant businesses have access to immediate relief when government action is the direct cause of economic hardship,” they said.