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The global coronavirus pandemic has hit Puerto Rico's tourism industry hard. >Archive

The United Nations - World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) informed that, from January to May, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic severely affected global tourism, with $320 billion reported losses in the course of five months, or three times more than the drop recorded in 2009 economic crisis ($87 billion)

According to a report published by the global entity, throughout the January-May 2020 span, international travel plummeted by 56 percent: -47 percent in the Americas, -58 percent in Europe, -47 percent in Africa, -52 percent in the Middle East, and -60 percent in Asia and the Pacific, where the virus was first reported in China.

The “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism” Policy Brief issued by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, indicated that 100 million to 120 million of jobs in the tourism industry at a risk.

In a video addressing the issue, Guterres said that tourism is "one of the world's most important economic sectors," employing one in every 10 people around the world and providing livelihoods "to hundreds of millions."

"Tourism boosts economies and enables countries to thrive. It 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," the Secretary-General said.

Moreover, the Brief states that there could be losses of $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in exports from tourism, while 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) is at risk.

"The crisis is a major shock for developed economies, but for developing countries it is an emergency, particularly for many small island developing states and African countries," Guterres warned. For small island developing states (SIDS), the tourism industry represents over 30 percent of the majority exports, and even 80 percent for some, the report highlights.

Small and medium-sized businesses (pymes by its Spanish acronym) in particular are in peril. "Many [jobs at risk] are in the informal economy or in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which employ a high proportion of women and young people," Guterres added.

In Puerto Rico, the mitigation efforts enacted to curtail the spread of the virus, including restrictions on tourism and tourist activities, will lead the permanent closure of 20 percent to 30 percent of pymes, according to Economic Development Secretary Manuel A. Laboy.

Furthermore, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., Carla Campos, acknowledged that the pandemic's financial impact on the island's tourism sector exceeded $270 million. The official stated that Puerto Rico would need roughly 20 months to recover from this dramatic low.

To aid recovery in the industry, Guterres identified five priority areas that would ensure a return to prosperity while safeguarding both public health and livelihoods, as well as protecting the environment:

1. Mitigate the socio-economic impacts of the crisis.

2. Build resilience across the entire tourism value chain.

3. Maximize the use of technology in the tourism sector.

4. Promote sustainability and green growth.

5. Foster partnerships to enable tourism to further support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As previously reported by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL, in 2015 the UN developed an agenda comprised of 17 SDGs focused on ending poverty, protecting the planet, and achieving piece and prosperity for all by 2030. As such, the Secretary-General underscored that, while rebuilding tourism is "imperative," especially for developing countries, the recovery process must be "safe, equitable, and climate-friendly," in order to comply with the SDGs.

Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors.

It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more.

It boosts economies and enables countries to thrive.

—Christian G. Ramos Segarra contributed to this story.

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