JERUSALEM (AP) — At a tourism conference in Phuket last month, Thailand’s prime minister looked at attendees and asked a question with a predictable answer.
“Are you ready?” asked Prayuth Chan-ocha, who dramatically removed his mask and launched what is expected to be a reset for the country’s economy after more than two years of coronavirus-driven restrictions. When the crowd shouted the answer – yes, according to local media – it was probably speaking for the entire pandemic-hit world.
But a full recovery could take as long as the disaster itself, according to projections and interviews from The Associated Press in 11 countries in June. The hoped-for rebound, they argue, is more of a rough path out of a deep, dark cave than a definite rebound.
Some regions, like the French Riviera and the U.S. Midwest, contributed more to the climb than others — like the shutdown of “coronavirus-free” China, which was the world’s main source of tourists and spending before the pandemic land.
Despite rising coronavirus infections and inflation, the drive for human outbreaks and exploration is helping drive ascents, packing flights and museums. But economic urgency is the real driver of the $3.5 trillion industry in 2019, which the United Nations estimates has lost so much during the pandemic. It is estimated that tourism provides jobs for one in ten people on the planet.
Many places, especially those that have relaxed safety requirements, are witnessing a sunny summer of optimism and adventure.
“They say it’s the summer of revenge travel,” said Theresa Starta, a 52-year-old Pittsburgh resident, as she gazed out at a canal in Amsterdam as she watched the crowds flocking to the Dutch capital. “Everything seems to be going bad all over the world, so it’s nice to see something come back.”
“The road to a full recovery is long, but at least we’re back on track,” said Sanga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Business Association in Bangkok.
Despite the roar of travelers, challenges and uncertainty have clouded the post-pandemic situation. Full recovery is not expected until at least 2024.Concerns revolve around a long list of issues, including inflationsupply chain issues, rising infection rates and labor shortages.
Before the end of June, confusion Summer 2022 has begun to define travel.Airports and airlines that cut back on travel during the worst of the pandemic strive to meet demandlead to cancelled flight, lost luggage and all sorts of other nightmares. Frightened tourists are booking trips for shorter periods of time, making it harder for hotels, tour operators and others to plan, industry insiders say.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also increases the risk of an uneven recovery, lead to inflation — Even if the pain of other epidemics subsides, this factor could become a major obstacle.
“The real worry is the fall,” said Sandra Carvao, head of market intelligence and competitiveness at the United Nations World Tourism Organization. If inflation continues to rise, especially interest rates, “households will have to rethink their spending.”
With all the virus travel restrictions lifted, safety concerns are unlikely to diminish.
“When people decide to go on vacation, the most important thing is health and safety. It always has been,” said Simon Hudson, a professor of tourism at the University of South Carolina who is writing a book on pandemic recovery. “It will take a while.”
To start with the bright spots, the United Nations reported that in the first quarter of 2022, international arrivals almost tripled compared to the same period last year. March produced the healthiest results since the pandemic began, with arrivals climbing to nearly 50% of 2019 levels. That figure could rise to 70 percent of 2019 arrivals by the end of the year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization said in a revised forecast in May.
This has produced encouraging signs in some places, from Israel to the US, Italy, Mexico and France. Resets like Thailand are all the rage. Big plans for 2023 are brewing in the U.S., Such as cruises featuring some of Broadway’s biggest names.
These predictions are working in practice, often in places with aggressive and agile limitations early on, and adjusted by removing many protections as vaccination increases, and the omicron variant is proving to be less lethal than others.
Foreign tourists are flocking to places like the French Riviera, where supply chain issues make everything more expensive — including champagne, one restaurant owner said.
“From spring, it’s summer every night here,” says Elie Dagher, manager of La Villa Massenet in Nice. He said the bistro had been crowded with tourists from Scandinavia and the Netherlands, especially from the UK and the US, since April.
In Branson, Missouri, known for its country music performances and outdoor attractions, no bounce is necessary. Lynn Berry, a spokeswoman for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it welcomed a record 10 million visitors last year and appears to be on track to do so.
Jeff Johnson, co-owner of Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park, attributes its brief closure in 2020 to its loyal customer base from nearby states and cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. “When we reopened,” he said, “it never slowed down.”
In Italy, tourists — especially from the United States — have returned in droves this year. Easter eve was particularly noticeable in Rome, reflecting pent-up demand for year-round all-star attractions such as the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum.
“People are so eager to travel, it’s like popping a (cork) out of a bottle,” said Bernabò Bocca, president of the Federalberghi, the national hotel association. The moment Italy eased security measures in April, “large numbers of bookings arrived from the US at an unprecedented rate.”
Thailand has high hopes, too, after announcing last month that the country has waived virtually all requirements other than proof of vaccination, or a negative coronavirus test in the absence of proof of a vaccine.
The return of tourists has injected new vitality into the local tourism industry. The business association president Ruangwattanakul said Khao San Road, Bangkok’s famous backpacker street, was nearly empty last year, receiving as many as 5,000 tourists a day — a promising figure but a far cry from the 30,000 daily visitors before the pandemic.
Thailand’s struggle for recovery is instructive, with China a major factor. Chinese tourists accounted for a quarter of Thailand’s foreign tourists in 2019, but there is no sign they will return in such numbers.
The intermittent nature of the post-pandemic climb can be seen from Israel to India.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Vaibhav Khulbe, a restaurant owner in Damsara, India, who expects 4 million tourists to the country this year, compared with 11 million in 2019.
Like the rest of the world, Israel is struggling to catch up to its record 2019 tourism season, when 4.5 million people visited. Despite the lifting of all restrictions, Israel expects less than half – about 2 million tourists – this year, tourism ministry officials said. Among other concerns, political conflict has also been an issue following a deadly wave of Palestinian violence in Israel in the spring and the fall of the government last month.
Still, the ministry reported a steady, albeit gradual, climb. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, the unusual blend of spring religious festivals helped boost visitors in April. By May, tourist arrivals had risen to about 57% of the same month two years earlier.
But for many, the recovery has been uneven, especially in the occupied West Bank.
“We expect more people to come at least this month, like May, June, but it’s still very slow,” said Wisam Salsaa, manager of the Walled Hotel in Bethlehem.visit during july trip to israel and saudi arabia.
Designed by London-based artist Banksy, the colourful, locally-run hotel is well-known – but struggling. It expanded brick-and-mortar during the pandemic but was forced to cut its workforce from about 50 to 32 now. In June, its occupancy rate was about 30%.
“The tourism industry here,” Salsa said, “is very fragile.”
The following Associated Press reporters contributed to this report: Barbara Souk in Nice, France; Joey Capelletti in Chicago; Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Mike Corder in Amsterdam; Fanuel Morelli in Rome; Ciaran Giles in Madrid; Ashwini Bhatia in Damsara, India, Jim Salter in St. Louis, Mark Stevenson and Maria Verza in Mexico City and Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok. Follow Associated Press reporter Laurie Kellman in Jerusalem on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman