Published on Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Coronavirus and global sustainable travel

It's probably disaster for 2020 but it WILL get better

Dear Fellow Tourism Professionals,

Last week I was privileged to travel on the Eurostar to eat in two of Paris's greatest restaurants: the first had one Michelin star and an amazing young chef, the other you could call a 'Grande Dame' thought (by me, at least) to be the very best in Paris with no less than three Michelin stars. Lucky me. At least it was work-related.

Usually you would have to wait a minimum of a few months to eat at either place so I was surprised to be able to get a table at both, booking just two weeks prior.

I was also surprised to arrive at the young chef's place at dinner-time on Thursday to see it only half full.

And even more surprised, the next morning, to get a call from the top three-star restaurant where we had booked lunch. The manager told me that they had had a big cancellation and that my business partner and I would be lunching alone. "Was that OK or would you prefer to come in the evening?" he said.

From my point of view, eating in Paris's best restaurant with the entire culinary brigade at our command would be a lifetime experience. So, of course, we both opted for the lunch.

It is amazing what fear can do to the leisure industry, in particular the most expensive and exclusive parts of it.

But, nowadays, when something big and dangerous happens we tend to recover fairly quickly.

In July 1985, for instance, bombs went off in Madrid at the British Airways offices and at Rome airport baggage area. Later I remember talking to a friend at International Weekends in New York City. He told me that their 1985 passenger carryings had been all but annihilated, dropping from 120,000 to 30,000.

Later in 1997 I was at the World Travel Market just after 62 people, mainly tourists, had been killed in Luxor. The Egypt stand was totally gutted but tourism to Egypt recovered fairly quickly.

However COVID-19 is already creating havoc in 70 countries and it is likely that most world nations will eventually be affected. Plus it is so new that nobody knows how the whole thing will proceed. To many people this is a horror film scenario which fills all the news bulletins - and they are part of it.

But it depends on where you come from - China outbound tourism may even increase.

COVID 19 is certainly not yet as widespread as influenza, although it appears to be more lethal. Moreover, there are signs that for once central banks are working together to minimise the economic effects. And you can be sure that scientists are working around the clock to develop a vaccine.

But this is just the start. COVID-19 was identified in Wutan, China only three months ago.

We will learn more about the virus and how to mitigate its effects. Of course, the virus will be learning about us too.

The ITB was cancelled at short notice last week affecting 140,000 travel trade visitors. In any case how can you contract if you're looking at an exceptional year or two?

So, 2020 will probably be a travel disaster, reducing international leisure travel by up to 50% and business travel by up to 30%.

Fom a sustainable tourism point of view, the types of tourism affected and the reduction in numbers had to happen sometime.

Of course, we'll get over this eventually, although the travel industry geography will certainly be changed.

As many readers will be aware, in the Chinese language, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity. It will be fascinating to see what opportunities emerge from this danger. I have some thoughts on this, which I will address in my next 'letter from tourism's frontline'.

And our meals? At Lucas Carton the new young chef Julien Dumas produced an exquisitely imagined and crafted supper. And at l'Ambroisie   the impeccable service, the amazing food and our experience of being treated like royalty in the opulent, gilded rooms on the Place des Vosges was a lifetime's dream.

My colleague was in a soulful empty Venice last week and it was the same story there - empty hotels, empty restaurants, empty shops.

Disappointments for many - heaven for a few!

But this is the story of the travel industry. Disasters and triumphs abound,  but we still soldier on.

Sincerely yours,

Valere Tjolle

Valere is the author of 'You Lucky People' the story of travel - the world's most delightful and devastating industry. Find out more about it HERE

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  • Excellent reflective article

    Totally agree from an almost locked down Madrid. Tourism has to change and now could be that moment And there will be many new opportunies....

    By Bruce Taylor, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

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