By Dr. Peter Tarlow
On Tuesday night, February 22, Russia opened the long-awaited invasion of Ukraine. This article is not meant to be a military nor a political analysis of the events as they are unfolding but rather this article’s purpose is to examine the impact of the Russian invasion and war on the worldwide travel and tourism industry. It should be emphasized that at the time of this writing there is a great amount of information that is either not known or is highly vulnerable to change. Thus statements are made based in the most current information and data available at the time of this article’s writing. Lastly, in a world of high political sensitivities, this article’s purpose is not to lay blame but rather to examine the challenges that the current situation is presenting to the travel and tourism industry. To do so we must first consider the following data
• Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the travel and tourism industries are in a very vulnerable economic state. Large parts of these industries, especially smaller businesses, have closed due to lockdowns. Many people have lost their jobs; others have had to seek new employment, outside of travel and tourism merely to survive.
• Covid requirements or people’s fear to travel are now a major hurdle for these industries. The war in Ukraine means that there is now a war in Europe, the heartland of tourism. This war is occurring when travel and tourism not only have not yet recovered from unprecedented economic hardships but also in many tourism locations struggling merely to survive. These hardships not only include loss of income for those employed in the tourism and travel industries, but also changes in travel patterns, lack of service personnel, and multiple supply chain challenges.
• Due to the Covid -19 pandemic customer service has decreased and the fun of travel has now often been replaced with the hassle of travel. As of the date for the writing of this article, February 24, 2022, travelers are still required to wear masks in transportation terminals and while traveling, and air travelers must, depending on travel location, fill out long health forms, take Covid tests prior to departure, and in the case of international travel, they may be subjected to constantly changing quarantine regulations. The cumulative effect of these regulations is that travel has become increasingly more difficult and less pleasant.
• The Ukraine crisis comes at a time when tourism is facing inflation. Inflationary pressures not only mean price increases in goods and services but also means that the average traveler has less disposable income. The great majority of potential travelers will not spend money on vacations if they need that money for their children’s education or to purchase food and medicine.
• The current crime wave in many western nations, and especially in the United States, means that issues of travel and tourism security are on many people’s minds. When fear enters the travel picture then often potential business people and vacationers prefer to stay home rather than risk being mugged, robbed, or worse in a distant land or unknown location. Additionally, both virtual meetings and travel mean that there are methods to accomplish goals without having to travel.
• Due to anti-law enforcement bias in many media outlets, and among some political leaders, police reputations have suffered, and that suffering has translated into visitor hesitancy to turn to law enforcement for help.
• The United States currently has an open southern border. US border patrol officials report that the nation has now logged in approximately 2,000,000 illegal migrants from over 85 nations since January 21, 2001. These porous borders mean that the nation is open not only to immigrants but to criminals, cartel members and terrorists.
It is against this background that the travel and tourism industry must now add an additional wrinkle to the world of travel; the first major war in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The Balkan wars, however, were different in that they did not involve nuclear powers and the conflagration was isolated to one region of Europe. It is still too early to know if the Ukrainian crisis will limit itself to a localized area of Europe or if it will metastasize and as such involve NATO countries. If the latter were to occur with war spreading to the Balkan states, Poland and Germany then its impact will be felt across Europe and such a conflagration will involve multiple nuclear-armed states. The potential for miscalculations will increase exponentially. As such this conflict has the potential to go from a localized conflict to a European-wide or even world war.
From the tourism perspective here are some of the important points to remember
• Europe is highly dependent on Russian oil. Currently, the European nations have no alternative as the US under the current administration has cut back its oil production to the point that the US also now imports oil from Russia and even from Iran.
• China might interpret perceived weakness as a reason to attack Taiwan. Should this happen the world will be facing invasions by two nuclear states. Chinese airplanes now regularly invade Taiwan’s airspace, and China and Russia are now working together.
• Should the US and Europeans enter into a nuclear deal with Iran, they will free up billions of dollars for new acts of terrorism.
• The rise in energy costs comes during the European winter and this may mean a fracturing of the NATO alliance. This fracturing has already begun as nations such as Italy, Germany, and Belgium have already sought exemptions from some of the sanctions that the West is imposing on Russia.
Looking at the war through the lens of travel and tourism the following might also occur. Again, It should be noted that at this writing the points below are speculation. The situation is still unfolding and changing almost by the hour.
• The tourism industry may well see another slowdown in tourism especially if the European war expands or slows down. This will mean additional bankruptcies, lay-offs and lack of service.
• It is too early to determine how successful the western nations’ sanctions will be against Russia and what their impact will be on the world’s travel and tourism industry
• The airline and hotel industries should be prepared for another set of challenges, including new security regulations and the potential for passenger decreases on routes to locations such as Eastern Asia and Europe. On the other hand, areas not impacted by war may see an increase in the number of travelers who seek to visit these more peaceful locations.
• Tourism officials might see cross-border travel become more difficult as nations seek to protect their own citizens and their territory. The idea of the multi-nation tour may be replaced with more in-depth travel to single locations
• The possibility of millions of people becoming refugees is real and were this to occur, pressure on the hotel industry might increase.
• International banking and the transfer of money might become a lot more difficult and this means that locations that offer pre-paid all-inclusive packages may become more desirable travel options.
• Additional precautions health precautions should be considered with centers established to care for tourists on multiple levels and in a multi-lingual setting.
Although no one can predict the future tourism leaders should consider the following
• Strengthen their commitment to all forms of security by training police in tourism security, hardening tourism sites including hotels, transportation terminals, and places of lodging.
• Locations that are far from the European continent should offer special packages to Europeans and to people who are now seeking new destinations
• Work at improving tourism wellbeing and making sure that the industry communicates to its customers and clients that it cares
• Maintain regular news updates and assure people it will be easy to communicate with their home and loved ones
Let us all work to use the tourism industry as a tool to bring people together and demonstrate to the world that tourism is an instrument for peace.