Madrid, Dec 16 (EFE).- Requesting travelers to provide PCR tests to enter other countries once vaccination drives are well underway “is a step back,” Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Zurab Pololikashvili told Efe in an interview Thursday.
With a new flurry of measures being rolled out across Europe as the Omicron variant continues to drive infection rates up, the UNWTO chief expressed concern over the growing number of countries, including Italy and the United Kingdom, that are demanding PCR tests for foreign travelers.
“My message will be to be united, to be united will give us more possibilities to restart as fast as possible and millions of jobs are still at risk. Private companies, families and people who are working in the tourism industry are still suffering,” Pololikashvili said.
We need to “find the way so that people can travel tomorrow. And it’s possible to help harmonize protocols. We need more investments, we need more sustainable development, we need more education,” the UNWTO head added.
The agency is expecting normality to return by 2022, although this will depend on the evolution of the virus, vaccination drives and the reemergence of key tourism markets such as China, the United States, Korea, Japan, Russia, Brazil and Mexico.
Pololikashvili added that he was confident the sector would bounce back swiftly because “everyone wants to travel”, although tourism markets would not return to pre-pandemic levels for at least another two or three years.
The sector is expected to record losses of up to 75% compared to 2019, despite the northern hemisphere recovering somewhat last summer compared to 2020, a year that was a “disaster” for tourism.
When asked about the criticism the agency has faced over not doing enough to restart the sector, Pololikashvili recalled that the UNWTO was the first organization to create a crisis committee when the pandemic was announced in March, which went on to work on recommendations and guidelines for the industry.
“We were the first to say that the world needed to equip itself with homogenized standards to know how to travel,” the expert added.
The cornerstone of these guidelines has been the use of PCR tests and the creation of a Covid passport, later adopted by the European Union, the UNWTO secretary-general said.