The 20th WTTC summit is under way in Cancun, this year taking place in a hybrid format.
Held in partnership with the government of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the summit has attracted a large number of high-level industry leaders, in Cancun to meet with key government representatives, with the aim of taking action on the most important issues across the international tourism agenda.
The summit was kicked-off by Christopher J. Nassetta, Chair, World Travel & Tourism Council and President & Chief Executive Officer, Hilton and Carlos Manuel Joaquin Gonzalez, Governor of Quintana Roo, with opening remarks by Gloria Guevara, President & Chief Executive Officer, World Travel & Tourism Council.
A number of high-level hybrid and “real” meetings have been taking place in an effort to work on ideas to “unite the world for recovery”.
In the session “Tales from the East: Asia-Pacific’s Path to Recovery and Beyond”, Aradhana Khowala, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Aptamind Partners hosted five “heavyweights” from different fields to discuss the topic: Pansy Ho, Co-Chairperson and an Executive Director, MGM China Holdings Limited Tadashi Fujita, Director, Japan Airlines, James Liang, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Trip.com Group, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Secretary of Tourism of the Philippines, and Puneet Chhatwal, Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, Indian Hotels Company.
Indeed, over the past decade, the Asia-Pacific region has been a driver of Travel & Tourism growth, accounting for 33% of total outbound Travel & Tourism spend in 2019. This growth was put to a sudden halt due to COVID-19, resulting in prolonged international border closures and the loss of over 34 million Travel & Tourism jobs in Asia-Pacific in 2020. As the region first affected by the pandemic, the sector has had to remain agile in its crisis response but rigid in its dedication to maintaining public health, business continuity and jobs.
When asked about international health certification and its importance, James Liang stated, “International organisations, such as this organisation, can help countries come together and agree on some principles, and work out a scheme so that every country can participate. That would be the best scenario. Otherwise it would take much longer. I think travel certification is a good idea and very helpful for the future, for the speedy recovery of the global travel industry.”
Bernadette Romulo-Puyat added that “Anything that facilitates travel is very welcome. I met recently with IATA and we are completely in support of IATA… anything that facilitates travel is welcome.”
Speaking from London, BBC World News presenter Ros Atkins hosted a conference session entitled “Map to the Future: Accelerating the European Recovery”. (YouTube link)
Like most other regions, Europe’s Travel & Tourism sector has been devastated by COVID-19, with numerous countries imposing travel restrictions, leading to the loss of 3.6 million jobs in 2020. While domestic and regional travel began picking up in the summer, second waves shook early signs of recovery and raised alarm bells. The session looked at how the European experience with COVID-19 might be of value to the rest world, and what needs to be done to further accelerate the recovery of the sector and rebuild for the future. The speakers were: Caroline Leboucher, Chief Executive Officer, Atout France – France’s Tourism Development Agency, Friedrich Joussen, Chief Executive Officer, TUI Group, Nigel Huddleston MP, Minister of Tourism of the United Kingdom, Roberto Martinoli, President & Chief Executive Officer, Silversea Cruises, and Robin Ingle, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ingle International.
“I think there’s a lot of empathy amongst Government ministers, and I talk to Tourism Ministers in Europe and around the world fairly frequently,” said Nigel Huddleston, adding, “I think we do all recognise that we are dealing with a fast-moving situation and probably, we shouldn’t confuse clarity of communication, because I think most governments have tried to be very clear, with that speed of decision-making, which means sometimes, things change really, really, really quickly. And we recognise that is incredibly inconvenient to both the public and businesses. But we have to deal with the world as it is, and recognise that sometimes, in particular with the virus, we have a sudden surge and there’s an expectation and requirement to respond and react incredibly quickly, recognising that’s extraordinarily inconvenient. So, I am not going to stand here and criticise any government.”
“So how do companies navigate the communication challenge, where all governments are advising slightly different things? How can that be addressed on a Europe-wide level”, asked Atkins.
“We need to be acting with a lot of agility”, said Roberto Martinoli, adding, “As it was said, there are many things happening, very quickly. There is a need to intervene. We are looking at something that is partly unknown, and unfortunately the other thing is that it is not a homogeneous situation.”
He added, “The problem is that when things are changing from one country to another, even if they are close to one another, it’s a big challenge. Understanding that there are a lot of challenges, the aspiration is to be a little more coordinated where possible, with the understanding that it’s not going to be easy.”
A session entitled, “Shifting Gears for Recovery: Rebuilding Travel & Tourism in Latin America” was hosted by Arturo Sarukhan, President, Sarukhan + Associates, and featured Martin Zanone, Managing Director, Eurotur, Hugo Desenzani, Chief Executive Officer, Libertador Hotels, Resorts & Spas, Gordon Wilson, President, WorldReach Software, and Julián Guerrero Orozco, Vice-Minister of Commerce, Industry & Tourism of Colombia.
Sarukhan underlined the extraordinary diversity of the region, and asked Colombia’s Vice-Minister to explain how his country has been facing up to the crisis.
“I think that one of the most important key lessons learned in Colombia is the importance of effective communication and engagement,” stated Julián Guerrero Orozco. “Since the first moments of the pandemic, when the pandemic hit Latin America and Colombia, we established a communication channel with the tourism sector in Colombia with regional authorities and state authorities. Internationally, we also set up a coordination mechanism with the tourism authorities of the region to have 24/7 communication, to propose ideas, request things, adapt measures, and bounce ideas that people might have different ideas about. But I think the secret to the relative success that Colombia has had in dealing with the pandemic, with all the uncertainty that it brought, and the difficulties in adopting good mitigation measures last year and recovery measures since the second half of the last year and this year, has been the fact that despite having differences, criticisms, or different views about many things, there was permanent communication and engagement in doing things. I think that has been the key secret to the good things that have occurred in the midst of the pandemic.”
A conference session hosted by CNN’s Richard Quest, “From Turmoil to Transformation: Protecting our Workforce & Recovering 100 Million Jobs” looked at what the sector should do to protect the millions of livelihoods that rely on the sector and bring back those who lost their jobs.
The session featured Shirley Tan, Chief Executive Officer, Rajawali Property Group, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie of France, Mark Hoplamazian, President & Chief Executive Officer, Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Paul Griffiths, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Airports International.
Quest outlined that as arrivals stopped abruptly in early 2020, the fuel for the growth of Travel & Tourism halted and the sector struggled to protect its workforce. While the sector’s agility and governmental policies provided much-needed lifeline, more, he said, would be needed to revive 100 million jobs globally. So, as a sector that is all about people, what should governments do to protect the millions of livelihoods that rely on the sector and bring back those who lost their jobs?
Mark Hoplamazian said his group had been working with a number of programmes: “The PPP programme, the people payroll protection program, was designed to provide grants to companies that were in dire need and most of the travel sector was and remains in dire need of this at this point. But it was really meant to be directed to compensation for people that you were bringing back or retaining during a period when demand didn’t justify staffing. Nonetheless, that was limited in its application, and the implementation left something to be desired in the hotel industry, because of the structure of the industry. The brand management companies like ourselves employ a lot of the employees, but they are paid for by an owner of a hotel, thus mismatching the record of the employer, and this caused a lot of friction in the early stages of the PPP. So that’s one programme that was partially effective. The employee retention credit, which is a tax credit, was highly effective in helping companies afford to retain employees. I do believe that the programme that the French government actually implemented, which the minister just referenced, has been highly effective because the key in our situation is if you can retain connectivity to those who have been furloughed or laid off, that is a wonderful foundation for reemployment for the future. We have tried to do this through private means, meaning we set up an app-based communication platform to try to maintain communications and connectivity with people who we had to let go over the course of this past year. But in the case of what the French programme did, it allowed companies to continue to maintain that connectivity while they got reimbursed for a portion of that compensation. I think prospectively we are not out of the woods yet and I think that there are there’s the potential for us to have a couple of call-backs. I pray that’s not going to be the case but it’s possible, and I think other employee-focused aid from the government will almost certainly be required soon.”
Emirates Airways chief Paul Griffiths made it clear there will be no returning to the old “normal”: “One of the things I think a lot of industries have done is to take the opportunity to eliminate customer facing bureaucracy for which we have needed thousands of people in the past so things like check-in is now touchless,” said Griffiths. “You can enter and leave Dubai without showing your passport now. We have iris and facial scanners to determine identity, so it’s accelerated the technology that will replace some of those jobs that have been quite bureaucratic in front of the customer before. So, I think one thing across the entire travel and tourism industry, as well as other industries, is actually that this will accelerate some of the automation that’s going on to eliminate some of those slightly more administrative tasks that we were doing in front of our customers in the past. So, we will not be employing the number that we were employing in the past, that’s for sure. And those we do employ we will make absolutely sure operate in a workplace where they are fit to deliver customer service which will be their primary focus without any risk at all to the customer. And we are sanitising everything around the airport to almost hospital operating theatre levels of clinical sanitisation. So, there were a huge number of changes that this has brought about, and I think some of them will last for a very long time to come.”
The WTTC summit continues today, with most sessions also available online.