IATA drives industry dialogue on how to cushion Covid-19 economic blow

Nobody knows when the travel industry will see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel as events and corporate meetings continue to be cancelled or postponed, while airplanes, hotels, restaurants and attractions are half-empty.

While recent projections of the financial impact on various sectors are sobering and some say it is too early to talk recovery, industry associations and the private sector are jumping into action to cushion the blow as best as they can.

Risk of catching Covid-19 on a flight “extraordinarily low”: IATA

IATA said it could be up to US$113 billion with broader spread of Covid-19, while a Global Business Travel Association survey released at the end of February put it at US$46.6 billion per month, or 37 per cent of the total 2020 forecasted global spend for corporate travel.

IATA’s two-day Aviation Resilience & Health Workshop in Singapore on March 4 and 5 brought airline members and industry partners together to discuss how they could meet medical and regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 outbreak and work with governments. By holding the workshop, which was organised in just 10 days, IATA hoped to reassure people the travel process was safe, indicating that catching Covid-19 on a flight was “extraordinarily low”.

Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA, based in Bangkok, who said he personally chose to attend the workshop, noted: “I believe that with precautionary measures and regular hand washing and use of hand sanitisers, it is fine to travel.

“I’m also conscious that this is a personal choice and not everyone may be as tolerant to risk. I would recommend everyone to first consult WHO, their respective country CDC and travel restrictions listed on IATA’s website before confirming their travel plans.”

Hardy further revealed that PATA is in the process of forming two task forces led by its volunteer board members to address industry concerns and issues as well as recovery.

He expressed that “the industry is in the process of organising itself” and shared that a Uniting Travel leadership conference call – with representatives from ACI (Airports Council International), CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), IATA, ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), PATA, UNWTO, WEF (World Economic Forum) and WTTC – was organised the week of March 9 to discuss joint strategies.

“PATA has also joined a tourism task force with WHO, World Bank, IMF, ADB and CDC to discuss, understand and look at actions needed regarding health and economic recovery. It is still in early stages as we had our first call last week,” Hardy noted.

Kitty Wong, president, K&A International and former president of World PCO Alliance, said it was important for companies to “make their own judgment” on who and what to believe amid all the information out there.

Agreeing with Hardy, she pointed out: “Be sensible and do your own risk assessment. Take care of yourselves, follow the instruction/guidelines set by our governments – if you trust them – look after your staff and protect your clients.”

Wong shared that partners and stakeholders in Taiwan had pledged to honour contracts for postponed events with hotels and venues agreeing “to cooperate” on such cases until the end of the year.

“Work closely with your local MICE industry/community to prevent further losses and/or damages,” she urged. “The aftermath and recovery will rely heavily on our collaboration with partners and stakeholders. Some governments already have plans for economic recovery and I am sure the governments and the private sector will work hand-in-hand going forward.”

In reacting to IATA’s call for rational messages, an industry veteran observed that with so many unknowns about Covid-19, whatever messages that need to be sent cannot be “too clinical”.

“We need to look at restoring travel confidence, that is key. But how to convey that is the challenge we face,” he quipped.

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