The outbreak of Coronavirus COVID-19 represents an important and evolving challenge to the tourism sector. Containment of the pandemic is the top priority and the tourism sector is committed to supporting all measures taken to contain the epidemic. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), its Member States and industry to ensure a coordinated and effective response. Even if the rapidly changing reality quickly overcomes any assessment of the impact of this unparalleled crisis on the tourism sector, based on the latest developments regarding quarantine measures, travel bans, border closures and the patterns of previous crises, the UNWTO can already foresee a massive loss in tourist revenues, especially at the international level. The World Travel and Tourism Council warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could cut million jobs in the travel and tourism sector as travelling is expected to significantly drop worldwide in 2020.
In response to the virus outbreak and the imposed social distancing, many World Heritage properties are currently closed, this having a social and economic consequences on the communities that live in and around these sites. Covid-19 has also suspended many intangible cultural heritage practices with significant consequences for the social and cultural life of communities around the world.
Although this situation makes tourism highly vulnerable, the sector is also in a unique position to contribute to broader and just recovery plans and actions. All over the world, tourism represents development opportunities, promotes solidarity and understanding beyond borders, while domestic tourism also helps to foster cohesion within nations. Besides, the sector plays a crucial role in leveraging efforts to preserve and promote natural and cultural heritage. All this makes the support of the global tourism sector even more indispensable both in this moment of crisis and when societies will enter the recovery phase. This is particularly relevant as the global community has only ten years to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the 2030 Agenda. If responsibly managed, tourism, which is generally linked to only some of the indicators and related targets, can emerge from the current crisis as an even more critical contribution to the SDGs, supporting livelihoods and creating new opportunities for people around the world.
At the moment, UNESCO and many institutions provide digital opportunities directly from home – innovative solutions have been put in place in the cultural and creative sectors across Europe so that learning and exploring can continue despite COVID-19.
In DUNC we have rapidly shifted our work towards digital meetings and events, as a response to the current crisis. Unfortunately, some planned events have had to be postponed, but we are doing all we can to make sure that they will be conducted as soon as possible. To ensure the success of the project and to be able to reach the goals outlined in the project plan, we are currently preparing an application for a 6-month prolongation of the project – which would otherwise end in August this year.
All partners are taking measures to cope with the current situation. Some examples are that in Karlskrona we are creating a new online 360-degree video experience of some parts of the World Heritage, to enable people to experience the unique location from home. In another part of the project, led by EUCC Baltic Office, we are creating strategies for sustainable tourism in our participating World Heritage sites, and this will continue at full speed with online workshops and meetings.
We are hopeful that we will complete the project successfully and deliver output of great value to the South Baltic area and our partners. But the true goal is to give value to our visitors, and the current ban on travels might contribute in the long run to the discovery of our World Heritage gems by the people living in our part of Europe. We are hoping for a quick ending to this situation, and that tourism will once again commence.