The tourism industry’s 2020 figures are truly devastating: globally, one billion fewer international arrivals were recorded, putting approximately 120 million jobs at risk. The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region was hit with 75% fewer arrivals resulting in gaps in gross domestic product of countries such as the Seychelles, Mauritius and Cape Verde. Those hoping for a quick recovery are seeing a frustrating struggle, even in the most developed countries, against an ever-mutating virus. Now, most experts expect a realistic recovery by 2023 or later. 

The future path to ‘pre-Covid’ times is based on restoring confidence and creating a sustainable and resilient tourism sector. The proposed measures include better intersectoral co-ordination to enhance safety in transportation, better healthcare capacities in tourism destinations, higher Covid-19-testing capacities and prevention measures, and increased levels of digitalisation. Further, international collaboration is required to create safe travel corridors, and optimise co-ordination of Covid-19 rules and regulations to avoid complications in international travel. The sector will be shaped by new post-pandemic trends such as the rise of digital nomads, local tourism and conscious travelling. 

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Certainly, these measures may be crucial for the future of the tourism sector. But today’s reality is that the majority of the heavily impacted companies are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While the UK, EU and other nations from which tourists originate are categorising destinations by ‘risk zones’, without any interest in or consideration of the consequences for the economies of these countries, millions of women are losing their jobs and their businesses in what is one of the most inclusive sectors in the MEA region.

With stimulus packages being insufficient or not accessible for SMEs, funds for micro-deals between contractors and small suppliers from rural communities are missing, which will eventually lead to poaching in some countries and deforestation and illegal activities in others. A highly vulnerable ecosystem, existential for the sustainable development of entire regions, is unable to handle the fatal disruption caused by the pandemic and is collapsing as a result. It is essential to understand that the future of the tourism sector in the MEA region, particularly in the developing and underdeveloped countries, does not depend on the recovery in 2023, but on international financial support today. 

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. E-mail: m.rafaty@lic-consulting.com

This article first appeared in the June/July print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.