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File picture: Tourists on Point Beach in Tobago.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an “unprecedented opportunity to transform the relationship of tourism with nature, climate and the economy”, the United Nations has stated in its newly released policy brief titled “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism”.

The policy brief which was released yesterday assessed the impact of the pandemic on the third-largest export sector of the global economy.

The policy brief stressed the urgency of sustaining the millions of livelihoods threatened by the pandemic but also recognised in this crisis an opportunity for the transformation of tourism, and it recommended five action priorities to rebuild a more resilient, sustainable sector.

It is estimated that globally, 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk as tourist arrivals are expected to fall this year by as much as 78 per cent.

Women and youth workers, and small businesses – all highly represented across this sector – have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis, it stated.

The disruptions to employment and livelihoods have been most pronounced in Less Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like those of the Caribbean, where more than 80 per cent of total export revenues can depend on tourism, and the linkages between this and other sectors are strong.

UN secretary-general António Guterres said tourism allows people to experience some of the world’s cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other, highlighting our common humanity.

“Indeed, one might say that tourism is itself one of the wonders of the world. That is why it has been so painful to see how tourism has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Guterres said.

He said that in the first five months of this year, international tourist arrivals decreased by more than half and some US$320 billion in exports from tourism were lost.

“It is imperative that we rebuild the tourism sector,” he said.

“But it must be in a way that is safe, equitable and climate friendly. Transport-related greenhouse gas emissions could rebound sharply if recovery is not aligned with climate goals. Supporting the millions of livelihoods that depend on tourism means building a sustainable and responsible travel experience that is safe for host communities, workers and travellers,” Guterres said.

Guterres said the five priorities are: “First, mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the crisis. Second, build resilience across the entire tourism value chain. Third, maximize the use of technology in the tourism sector. Fourth, promote sustainability and green growth. And fifth, foster partnerships to enable tourism to further support the Sustainable Development Goals.”