Would you travel with confidence to a destination that has a badge that ensures that it meets the standards of safety and hygiene in the face of the pandemic? That is what the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) promotes, although not everyone in the sector shares it.
One of the sectors most affected by the coronavirus pandemic is tourism and all the industries that comprise it, from air, land and sea transportation companies, to hotels, restaurants and local businesses, to the informal economy.
A report issued in 2019 noted that the previous year, the sector had contributed a record $ 8.8 trillion and 319 million jobs to the world economy, at a growth rate higher than that of global GDP.
The report is the product of annual research by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) on the economic and social impact of that industry.
The WTTC, which represents the global private travel and tourism sector, is concerned about the deterioration of business as a result of local lockdowns, restrictions on entering and exiting countries and other measures to control the spread of covid-19.
Faced with the “catastrophic” situation, in June the WTTC created a Safe Travel Seal – a kind of safety and hygiene approval – with the aim of “ restoring the confidence of travelers and reviving” the ailing industry.
“The impact of covid-19 has been devastating and unprecedented,” Gloria Guevara, president and executive director of WTTC in London, tells BBC News Mundo.
“For some countries the tourism sector represents 10% of their economy. And there are some islands in the Caribbean where it contributes more than 50% ”.
According to the analysis carried out by the WTTC of the evolution of the current crisis and some of the past – from September 11, until the bank crash of 2008, through the Ebola and SARS outbreaks – they project that by the end of the year there will be a pandemic. affected 197 million jobs in the travel and tourism and generated one s loss s US $ 5.5 trillion.
But certain lessons were learned from these past crises, one of them the need to generate international protocols to regain the confidence of the traveler, says Guevera. And that is where the Safe Travel Seal is framed, he points out.
“These protocols have to be the same everywhere. If I stay in a hotel in London, Mexico or Miami, the experience will be the same ”, indicates Guevara.
Thus, he says, the WTTC decided not to wait for governments and define the protocols from the private sector, following the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the recommendations of experts and universities.
And he added the knowledge acquired from his own experiences, he stresses.
“Our hotels – more than 200 – offered rooms to nurses and doctors who treated cases of covid-19 in Madrid, Milan and other places. Despite being exposed to the virus, these facilities remained free of the disease, “said the executive director.
With the sum of all this information, protocols were developed for 11 industries , including airports, aviation, hotels, car rental, travel operators, open-air commerce and conventions, so that they adhere to a series of safety standards and hygiene.
These range from guidelines on the use of masks and tracking of consumers, to public distancing and the availability of antiviral gels.
As the WTTC representative explains, the seal allows travelers to recognize establishments around the world that have adopted the “most rigorous” standardized health and hygiene protocols to avoid contagion.
The original idea was to offer it to private sector establishments and not to destinations, says Guevara, until they were contacted from various countries and destinations requesting the stamp.
“We decided to make an assessment of these countries and compare their protocols with ours. To those who are at the level of the local private sector and do not contradict our protocols, we give them the seal ”.
The WTTC has awarded the badge to more than 120 destinations and countries .
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 16 countries have received it, including Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and more recently Guatemala.
It is the local authorities that determine which establishments and sites of tourist interest comply with the biosafety protocols and send them to the WTTC for it to grant them.
A notable example is the historic Inca sanctuary of Machu Picchu, in Peru, which has just received it.
In other countries such as Mexico and Brazil, the WTTC distributes its seal at the state or regional level, as in the case of the Cancun resort, in the state of Quintana Roo.
Although Mexico is one of the countries in the region with the highest number of coronavirus cases and Brazil the one with the highest contagion in all of Latin America, Guevara affirms that the infection rate does not condition the delivery of stamps .
“There are many cases in which the infections have nothing to do with travelers,” he explains, indicating that the spread in certain countries happens “from community to community, from house to house.”
“If a country has high covid-19 rates, but has established protocols, we can give it the seal because it is not related to cases of infection, he says.
Countries in Latin America with the WTTC Safe Travel Seal
- Costa Rica
- The Savior
- Puerto Rico
- Dominican Republic
The stamp is offered completely free, but the country or destination must make an application, fill out a form, and show they have compatible protocols.
According to Guevara, the reception of the stamp has been ” overwhelming ” , thanks to the travel agencies that promote it and the response of travelers.
“The seal has come to reduce the uncertainty towards the destinations that have obtained it and the service providers who acquire it,” he says.
It is not a “certification”
However, not everyone in the union is so optimistic about this strategy.
One of them is Juergen Steinmetz, an entrepreneur at the Hawaii-based travel guild, co-founder of the Rebuilding.travel network , made up of tourism leaders in 120 countries and who has his own initiative to relaunch the industry.
The businessman considers that it is not yet possible to know whether or not international travel should be promoted as insurance .
“I think it makes more sense to focus on regional travel, destinations that can be reached by car, for example, where you don’t have to jump on a six-hour flight and cross international borders. That would be a first step ”, he tells BBC News Mundo.
“This, to me, is more of an exercise in encouragement and public relations than anything else,” he says.
Consider declaring a destination safe to be a risk and may lead to legal trouble.
“You can try to maintain sanitary practices, but you cannot say that a hotel, an airline or a restaurant is safe with a seal.”
For his part, Guevara clarifies that the WTTC seal “is not a certification.” Certification is done by each country locally with its health authorities .
“This seal is a recognition that the destination or country follows the strictest protocols, at the private or global sector level, and is aligned with us.”
It highlights that the WTTC reviews the destinations’ requests one by one, compares them and then asks them to sign a commitment to follow the protocols and warns that, if they change them, they may lose recognition.
Control and audit
Steinmetz clarifies that he has no objection to the guidelines and protocols.
“I read them, they are excellent, they did a great research,” he acknowledges.
“The WTTC comprises the biggest in the industry and everyone has an interest in reopening tourism to save their businesses. Naturally, that is an important part ”.
Your doubts come from the control and audit of the destinations that have the Safe Travel Seal.
“That seal is based on complying with a list, but that list is constantly changing , ” he stresses.
It also indicates that the issue of monitoring is also problematic, since the control is not carried out on site but with a self – assessment of the same destination.
Account that is part of an organization that applied for the seal of the WTTC, that received it, but there was no follow-up.
“Nobody called us to find out what we were doing to deserve the label. All you do is fill out a form saying that you are doing what they consider to be good and they grant it to you ”.
“The consumer should know that these stamps are based on self-evaluation. Unless they receive a certificate from the government’s own agencies, like here in Hawaii, where there is a staff whose only task is to visit the places to check that the ordered standards are being met. The other is not a guarantee, ”Steinmetz says.
Gloria Guevara insists that her organization can find out if a country or destination changes its protocols because they have members all over the world. The other source of surveillance is that of the traveler himself, he says, who can comment on social networks and tourism platforms such as Tripadvisor if the protocols were adequate or not. “The worst thing that destinations can do is not follow the protocols because bad reviews impact their reputation and image.”
Although they have not removed the seal from anyone yet, Guevara says that they have denied it to applicants who decided at the last minute to modify the protocols and implement the quarantine, such as a country in Latin America that he did not want to identify so as not to damage his image.
The executive director of the WTTC points out that “nobody can guarantee 100% security” . Remember that even after 9/11 there was not that level of security. “Neither in your house, nor in your car are you 100% safe. The important thing is to identify the risk and know what level of risk you are willing to accept ”.
However, what it does guarantee about their strategy is that they are doing everything possible to minimize the possibility of contagion. “If we could keep the hotels with doctors and nurses free of COVID-19 – those who were so exposed – I think we can keep the facilities (that receive the seal) safe.”