02 Leadership Viewpoints

Post-COVID Action 3/5: Slash Global Travel for Business & Tourism Forever

The coronavirus problem is an opportunity — to reverse human havoc.

Post-COVID Action 3/5: Slash Global Travel for Business & Tourism Forever

When I think back to the times before the coronavirus pandemic, it was like the world had gone mad with travel. 

At the drop of a hat or less, people were travelling for business. With pride or lamentation (often faked) I used to hear, “Oh, I am away from home nine to ten months of the year”. Families were missing out on together-time, health was being put at risk and productivity was abysmal, if truth be told.

And tourism, oh man, if one didn’t have a bucket list to see every continent and all the top 100 hot spots of the world, one was pathetic and pitiful. And the top destinations were inundated, had become artificial and alike in many ways, with a scant sense of being exotic or an achievement to visit. The heat of tourism had turned them into a façade, a show, of their original specialness.

There were about 4.4 billion(!) air journeys in 2018. And tourist arrivals were 1.4 billion(!). Imagine the fuel burnt on the ground and in the air. Picture the red-eyed, back-clutching executives eking out an hour of groggy work for every 100 hours spent getting there and back. Visualise the wide-eyed tourist hordes walking around like an invasion of sheep in Paris, Rome, Venice, Bali, Rio and the like. And nary a thought for the side effects on the planet.

Now, when the pandemic has swiped it all away, the entire earth and these popular destinations are undergoing a creaking catharsis. It is like a giant who was bludgeoned to the ground managing to push himself up on hands and knees, head still hanging, breathing deep, hoping to be able to stand up.

We cannot let the mad global rushing around of humanity begin again. 

Let us completely stop travelling by air for work, between countries and within countries. The only exceptions should be travel for emergency aid and military duties. Everything else can be done remotely, virtually, on the phone and web conferencing, even heads-of-state meetings. It will align with the work-from-home movement too. Local, short-distance surface travel for work by 10-20% of workers for 10-20% of the time should still be allowed, as it has a miniscule impact compared to large and far air travel.

Sure, there would be about 50million airline industry jobs lost worldwide, and many companies would close, but there are other jobs to do and other sectors that will grow locally. The relative number is tiny in the global workforce of 3.5 billion workers.

Simultaneously, let us restrict the number of tourists to 20% of the global peak of 2018 in every country, city and nature resort.  It should be combined with a ‘no-tourists window’ for one quarter of every year for every destination, with the selection left to it. It will be the fallow time allowing the place to recover. 

About 150 million tourism jobs would become redundant worldwide if this were adopted. It is a larger number, and it will need more planning, investment and intervention. But it is not just vital environmentally but necessary economically, because tourism is, on the whole, a luxury for humankind. Admittedly, it increases our knowledge, makes us more tolerant of other cultures and promotes global trade, but it does not directly produce anything useful. It generates jobs, but they are all aimed at moving, lodging and feeding people as they flit from outdoor scenes to barely understood art to impressive but jam-packed buildings. Or we travel thousands of kilometres to visit the self-same malls and theme parks. And at the end of it all, we buy cheesy souvenirs, hardly any of them made locally by indigenous artisans, but mass-produced in distant Chinese factories. Instead, if we turn these 150 million tourism workers to produce capital goods or services, it would boost every economy from the grassroots and generate even more jobs and gross domestic product.

So, let’s clamp down the torrent of global air travel for work and tourism, forever, even after this pandemic is behind us. The work will go on, businesses will continue, and we can still see at least ten foreign places in our lifetimes. That’s enough. Anything more is just professional and personal avarice.

If you like it, please pass it forward.

You can (re)visit Post-COVID Actions 1, 2, 4 & 5 at:

Post-COVID Action 1/5: Convert Offices to Apartments Globally

Post-COVID Action 2/5: Morph the Automobile Industry into Public Transport Industry

Post-COVID Action 4/5: Get More Out of Life by Working from Both Home and Workplace

Post-COVID Action 5/5: Practise ‘The Incredible Lightness of Being’ Human

Shashi on LinkedIn

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