IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO?

It is the tail end of Summer 2020 in Europe. In some places we have seen travel reopen, but as the season begins to draw to a close, so too are places being shut down once more, driven by an avoidable second wave of COVID-19. With these whiplash changes and ever shifting and convoluted restrictions, the opportunity for even a limited 2020 summer and early autumn travel season is rapidly fading.

Despite this uncertainty, it has been clear that the virus can be controlled. However, individual irresponsibility combined with the continued lack of cohesive government strategies and poor cross nation coordination, has resulted in this outcome. Unless we do better, this virus or COVID-20, COVID-21, whatever the year and case might be, are going to be with us for some time.

The impact of people not travelling is now ricocheting through not just the travel industry, but across nearly every industry and business too. The economic ecosystem that the travel industry supports runs far and wide, from supply chains to value chains, shopkeepers, attractions, taxis, drivers. Travel is responsible for 10% of GDP. Globally this ecosystem has offered as recently as 2019, 1 in 10 jobs worldwide. That’s 1 in 10 families able to enjoy stability, security and hope as a result of Travel & Tourism. No other economic sector offers such opportunity, such promise. The WTTC now predicts that the global travel and tourism market will lose over 100 million jobs worldwide and significantly impact GDP.

The path to avoiding these outcomes is as clear as the failures of the past several months. Not respecting the challenge of managing the first wave of our generation-defining pandemic, and causing a second wave (and in some places even third) as a result of careless individual actions. This, combined with unclear and/or inconsistent government protocols, has resulted in the world again delaying the ability to heal and get back on its feet, economically, physically and emotionally.

This both infuriates and concerns me. Why? At a time that many parts of the world were ready to begin dreaming and exploring, starting to reconnect with the rest of the world, we could see first-hand that simple actions could change the trajectory, but it would require discipline to maintain them. Yet as restrictions subsided so did vigilance, and for some unknown reason people began to think that COVID19 was just not a problem anymore. Possibly, the likelihood that we are not so much stopping the virus but merely slowing down its spread, is acting as a disincentive. The outcomes are already right here in front of us. And I mean this literally, not just figuratively.

Globally we are now at another tipping point. Everything we read, the necessary steps to control this and other viruses, remain unchanged. It is remarkably simple; the adherence to health measures is the only way to manage the virus. Keep your distance from others, wash your hands, avoid heavily crowded and enclosed areas and wear a mask where recommended. Implement a system for track and trace and if needed, self-quarantine. When these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they’re not, cases go up.

To be selfish, is defined as “lacks consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.” COVID-19 is bringing to the forefront a social sickness that extends beyond the pandemic, which globally has claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 souls. The disease’s name – selfishness.

We are an impatient I-centric society, in which too many are primarily focused on ‘what’s in it for me’. Something as simple as a request for people to wear a mask in public has become distracted by politics. I simply don’t understand how the wearing of a mask infringes on any individuals’ liberties. We abide by speed restrictions around schools and prohibitions on drunk driving. In the I-centric society, each of these equally impinges on ‘civil liberties’. But we abide by them in the name of public health – for our safety and that of others. With regards to this virus, do I enjoy wearing a mask? No. Do I understand why they are deemed critical to facing this pandemic? Yes. Do I therefore wear it out of respect for others in our collective quest to keep others safe, not just myself? Absolutely. It’s not right that someone who is vulnerable has to risk their life to go shopping because someone else wants to be defiant. It is our individual actions that impact our lives and the livelihoods of others.

COVID-19 has taught us all the importance of thinking about what we cannot see. We are in fact already united by an invisible bond. The pandemic is something that we cannot see, but it’s out there impacting us all. It’s something we cannot touch yet directly transferrable, causing us to avoid touching at all. And it’s something that has made it very clear that if we do not respect it, we will again be grounded. It is time to think wider, think bigger and to think more caringly. We need to take active, personal responsibility of our impact on our shared world. Is it difficult when facing an invisible crisis? No question about it, but there’s no question individually we have a role to play.

Additionally, as second waves grow and borders begin to re-shut, around the world we continue to see a lack of coordination amongst the governments and institutions, resulting in fragmented responses at a time when synergy needs to be a vital part of dealing with the crisis. To make matters worse, aggravated by the absence of ongoing communication about the critical value of reducing the virus. Rather than guide us, it is incredibly perplexing to see something that is manageable and achievable, become politicized, disregarded or mismanaged.

We have seen time and again that when you blend both science and politics, all you get is politics. The continued result; an unnecessary disaster being perpetuated and too many sufferings both epidemiologically and economically.

If a government can’t address something as important as this, then we don’t have a government. We should not raise our hands as victims, we again have a role to play; where there has been a complete absence of leadership and a focus on snake oil cures without foundation, we need to ensure that come elections, we vote, and we change them.

And to the governments of the world, I simply ask this: that if the sacrifices we have to make are to wear a mask, wash our hands and stand apart, and if we then don’t abide by these rules, then issue fines.  Just as you do if we are caught speeding in a school zone or driving over the alcohol limit. With international tourist arrivals projected to plunge by up to 80 percent in 2020, we need to work hand in hand to rebuild confidence that travel is both safe and inspiring, as well as economically viable.

There is a central lesson of COVID19: we are all in this together. We know where we are, we know where we need to go. This therefore is a moment of truth. A time for us to do better as a generation. The opportunity for us individually to take greater responsibility. We as a global community are bonded now more than ever because of a shared crisis, one that will define our generation. At this time, we are simply being asked to stand together by standing apart. It’s time to shift from an I-Centric to a We-Centric society. In doing so, we can act as a global community, coming together to enable us to move forward.

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