An exceptional new project has been launched between UNWTO and IATA, named the “destination tracker”. In order to get the “low down” on how it works and how it’s rolling out, journalist Richard Barnes spoke to Sandra Carvão, Chief of Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at UNWTO and Linda Ristagno, Assistant Director, External Affairs – IATA. He first asked Ms Ristagno how the idea came about.
LR: It was a joint idea. We realised that when there will be a phase of relaxation of Covid restrictions, it would be very difficult for operators to understand which destinations would be open for business, as the shutdown was not really ‘coordinated’. So, we thought that we needed something to inform operators, but also state regulators, as to what is open for business and how they can market to those destinations that are open, because travel is very important for everyone. And, you know, we say that the travel is the business of freedom, so we are eager to provide that freedom to travellers and passengers once state regulators are ready to allow us to do so.
Sandra, tell me a little bit about the background of this project from your point of view.
SC: In 2009, we lost 4% of international tourist arrivals. In 2020, we lost 73%. So, we went back in terms of the number of people traveling internationally to volumes that we had seen 30 years ago. This shows the impact of the restrictions that were put in place by governments to fight the pandemic on our sector. This has also led to a second consequence, which was different kinds of travel restrictions, and very short times in changing those restrictions. For us, there were two main points. One: providing businesses with some overall view of what is happening, because obviously, if you need to go to one hundred and fifty locations to find information on what is happening, it’s not effective. But that information then reaches the final consumer through the trade. For us, it was also a very important tool from another point of view, which was to enable governments to also benchmark what was happening in different countries, because then you can see if countries have the same source markets that you have, or the same kind of epidemiological situation that you have, you can benchmark yourself. And within the overall government decisions for travel restrictions, you can also bring that information as a tourism industry and say: ‘That country is in the same situation we are, and they’ve taken this or that measure’. Working with IATA has been critical for our affiliate members for a long time. They’re part of our ecosystem. They’ve been with us through the crisis committee that was established by the secretary general in March, immediately when the crisis hit. And it was also an opportunity from one side to get information on the travel restrictions, concerning airlines, but also the destinations. Now, many destinations are opening up, so we think this is the critical moment to have this tool available.
What was the initial brief?
LR: We have undertaken several surveys, and the latest one that was with our passengers showed that they are really eager to start travelling once the borders are open. However, travellers, when they travel, have to look for information on numerous websites depending upon the destination. There is no single source. And secondly, it is simply not clear which country does what and what businesses is open. For example, if you go to Italy, the information is split into different regions. So, we realised that we needed a single source, a single platform where, for example, travel associations, travel professionals or for example, travellers themselves, but also state regulators, can go and can find all the information from one single source. So, for example, they can see what is open, if they can go to restaurants or even the health indicators specific to each country. It is designed as a trusted industry database for immigration regulations and entry requirements covering all destinations.
Sandra, how is the information collected?
SC: We provide the critical information on entry requirements for countries. From our side, we work with our member states to provide information on the ground, in terms of events, in terms of transit through the country, issues such as restaurants and other facilities, so that we can have that perspective overall and also what kind of safety and security protocols are in place. We’ve also seen in many industry research reports that consumers are highly concerned about the implementation of those protocols. Whenever there is good news, we know there’s pent up demand and bookings and searches surge. But again, the challenge is in obtaining the information in enough time to plan one’s trip if you’re a traveller, but also planning your business, if you have a company, is definitely one of the biggest obstacles at this point. But we do see, for example, in markets where vaccination is going relatively well, that there have been increased bookings, and increased interest. I think probably the UK and the US will be markets to watch out for as well as many destinations in the Middle East that we have seen. As a UN agency, we always like to reinforce that it is urgent that the vaccination is not leaving anyone behind. We’re only going to be protected when everyone is vaccinated around the world. And we need to ensure that that is happening.
Why is it so important to have this new tool?
LR: Well, it’s important because the virus will not separate us forever, and we think and we hope there is light at the end of this very long tunnel. After a year of lockdowns, our mission is really to connect people globally. And we are in the business of providing the freedom that we all long for. So, it will be essential to provide updated and relevant information and to help the businesses and the states to reopen their business again and to allow all people to again enjoy the freedom that have been looking for.
You can find the destination tracker on the UNWTO website, and on the IATA website. It is being promoted through our regional colleagues, and we hope to reach out to airlines very soon, because once the tracker will be fully updated, their clients can make also decisions on where to fly for their business or leisure.