Coronavirus, or COVID-19 by its official name is the word that is nowadays is impossible to escape. It is in the news and in everyone’s mouths, from Karen at the office to every news channel to every other medium of either reliable or unreliable information.
As it is always the case whenever there is a crisis, most people and the media’s focus of attention is on how this virus affects the western world and the richest countries in the planet. Regardless of where you are in the world right now, it is almost impossible to avoid seeing headlines about what the US and other countries in Europe are doing to curb the spread of the virus. From cities and countries being completely shut down from the rest of the world because of imposed travel bans to many citizens rushing to buy the last rolls of toilet paper and bunkering down inside their homes hoping to wait it all out.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says up to 50 million jobs could be lost because of the pandemic.
Let that sink in for a minute.
50 million people out of a job in an industry they know because of decreased or inexistent demand.
Needless to say, one of the industries suffering the most from the coronavirus outbreak is the travel and tourism industry. And while the richest countries talk about bailouts and propose bills to soften the fall and monetary losses within their own borders, the poorest countries in the world are seeing their main source of income and their livelihoods reduced (and some of them shattered) since the start of the year and for the foreseeable future.
Amongst the countries I’ve been since the start of 2020, which coincides with the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Laos and Nepal are the ones which, in my opinion, have been hit the worst.
Chinese airline passenger numbers dropped by 84.5% in February. Today in March, as the US and many countries in Europe impose a travel ban on their citizens, and with many others choosing to stay at home, the ripple effect on the people from poor countries highly dependent on tourism is devastating.
From what I have seen, this decline in visitors has translated into a major loss on income for street vendors, hostel and guesthouse owners, small tour operators, and others who depend on tourist income to put food on their tables.
Laos, which normally has its peak tourist season from December to April, has seen major cancellations and a large decrease in visitors compared to prior years. Hostels and guesthouses sit half-empty in some of the most popular cities in the country, leaving owners and vendors with the option of reducing prices and laying-off employees or simply take the financial hit for as long as they can hoping that things will go back to normal soon.
Nepal, which was already hard hit due to the disappearance of Chinese tourists (its second largest group of tourists after India), has now cancelled visas-on-arrival to all foreigners and put an end to all mountaineering expeditions until the end of April, leaving tens of thousands in one of the already parts of the world how they will make ends meet. To put that into perspective, 427000 jobs and close to $400 million USD for the country are now in jeopardy of disappearing, at least for the foreseeable future.
Luckily, tourism has all but stopped in many of these countries, with many travellers (including myself) opting to continue to travel while keeping a close eye on new restrictions coming in on an almost daily basis. In China, the situation is improving on a daily basis and it won’t be long until its people begin to travel once again and support the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on travellers for their livelihoods.