Comparing the current outbreak to similar cases, world tourism next year may expand 1.5% from pre-pandemic 2019, with higher hopes for the year to come, according to a leader in the sector.
Bulut Bagci, head of the UK-based World Tourism Forum Institute (WTFI), said after the 2001 terrorist attacks and SARS epidemic of 2003, tourism narrowed dramatically, but bounced back rapidly in the US and Asia.
"I’m completely positive the world will normalize after May 2021 – gradually the tourism sector will return to normal by 2024," he told Anadolu Agency.
Bagci believes measures imposed worldwide to stem the spread of the coronavirus had negative effects on people. "I’m not waiting for similar lockdowns," he said.
As tourism narrowed 98% in 2020, many firms were affected, and figures showing the sector's position will be revealed in one or two months, he said.
Since originating in China last December, the pandemic has infected millions and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives globally.
Measures to stem the spread hit several sectors deeply, especially travel, aviation, tourism, and manufacturing.
Bagci said the sector cannot afford strong pandemic measures for another year, with several aviation firms on the verge of bankruptcy.
He said if a vaccine is approved in the coming months, people will go safely on vacation.
Bagci said due to the virus, hygiene and food service rules were revised permanently at tourist facilities.
"People now check to see if there’s a hospital nearby when they go on a vacation,” he said. “Turkey's initiative to build city hospitals is very important for the country's tourism sector.”
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca’s good management of public health during the pandemic gave people confidence, according to Bagci.
He said tourism also went digitized during the pandemic because customers chose digital channels for shopping, including holiday packages.
He stated that the MICE sector (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) will also revive in 2021.
"Digital events fall short for the MICE sector, online applications in this field aren’t permanent," he said.
Hosting more leaders than others
The WTFI organizes the World Tourism Forum to host leaders and key tourism players from different countries, he said, adding there are many fairs and events but the forum boasts the motto: "We host more Leaders than Others."
The forum has hosted about one dozen country leaders, more than 20 former leaders, 60 tourism ministers, and hundreds of sector representatives – CEOs and managers – Bagci said.
It is held in such hotspots as Istanbul, Antalya on the Turkish Riviera, Moscow, Ghana, and Angola, and is set to be held in Pakistan in 2021.
With specific recommendations and master plans, the institute helps countries attract more tourists and investments from foreign countries.
After the institute advised Ghana to ease visa conditions, its tourist numbers rose to 1.3 million annually, more than double its previous number, 600,000.
He said Angola also changed visa conditions to ease business travel to the country.
The forum is currently working with Pakistan to attract $10 billion in foreign investment.
"We met with [Prime Minister] Imran Khan,” he said. “Pakistan has several types of products for foreign investors but there are no world-class reports” showing the country’s potential, he said.
He said the institute, headquartered in the UK, is especially active in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Agreement with D8 countries
Bagci said the WTFI signed a new memorandum of understanding with D8 (developing) bloc countries to enhance tourism capacity and boost tourism investments.
"The D8 Organization for Economic Cooperation and World Tourism Forum Institute are joining forces to reshape economies by supporting the tourism sector across the D8 member states," according to the agreement.
"We aim at promoting tourism, cultural and social activities as well as boosting people-to-people, business-to-business contacts and integrate the state and private institutions of the Member States."
The forum will focus on the tourism sector of members Turkey, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Iran, Bagci said.
Turkey's tourism sector
He said Turkey attracts many tourists from Russia, Ukraine, the UK, EU and Asia.
Turkey offers nature tourism – seas and mountains – as well as culture tourism with its museums and ancient cities.
A tourist who visits Turkey can do sightseeing and sunbathe at the same time, said Bagci.
He said Turkey can appoint tourism envoys in Africa, as it did in European cities, to attract more visitors.
"If Turkey diversifies its tourist sources, it may see 50-60 million visitors,” he said.
“Sporting events, such as Formula 1, are also important for attracting visitors."
Last year, more than 45 million foreigners visited Turkey, up from nearly 39.5 million in 2018, while 5.4 million visited in the first seven months of 2020, down 78% year-on-year due to the pandemic.