A tourist walks past a waffle shop where stands a statue of the Manneken Pis wearing a mask, in Brussels, Belgium, June 28, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhang Cheng)
China can play a role as the main tourist market in the world, which could help stimulate global tourism after the crisis, said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of UNWTO.
MADRID, July 17 (Xinhua) -- As countries in Europe start to reopen to tourism amidst a decline in the spread of COVID-19, a senior official from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) revealed that "the European Union is going to open borders slowly and it will take some time, but in the future China will be one of the main sources and main markets for European destinations."
Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general of UNWTO, made the remarks during an exclusive interview with Xinhua, adding that the COVID-19 situation "is improving in China, but it will take a while for Chinese tourists to return to Europe."
Pololikashvili also explained that China can play a role as the main tourist market in the world, which could help stimulate global tourism after the crisis.
He said the UNWTO has spent the past months "doing the groundwork" to create the conditions to allow international tourism to restart when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic permits.
The Georgian admitted that there has never been a situation where "160 countries were locked down, with no activity. That means there was no connectivity and borders and hotels were closed."
He estimated that in 2020 the pandemic would lead to the loss of "about 80 percent of international visitors and around 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars in spending," but was quick to note that the UNWTO has wasted no time in thinking ahead.
"We immediately started to act and to think: First, what would be the short-term strategy to support member states and countries, and then to start thinking how we can be ready when we are able to travel again."
A woman wearing a face mask walks at the Trocadero Palace near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, July 10, 2020. (Xinhua/Gao Jing)
The UNWTO chief believed that the pandemic has been a "very unusual learning period for all of us at our organization." At first they "didn't know what to do," so the UNWTO decided to "invite all of our partners and all of the international organization to sit down and to talk."
"Coordination was one of the most important part of our lives at that time," he said, explaining that the UNWTO had worked with the International Maritime Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Air Transport Association, plus its members, the chairs of international regional commissions and its host country Spain.
"We have had five very interactive and long sessions," recommending liquidity and support for the private sector, which has been hardest hit, and churning out recommendations and guidelines for different kinds of tourist destinations, Pololikashvili noted.
Other UNWTO initiatives were the campaign "Stay home today, travel tomorrow", as well as creating a special space on its website where members can see the measures and the decisions other countries have made.
"We are still in crisis, but the recommendations and guidelines are there and ready and everyone can use them," he insisted.
According to the UNWTO chief, the pace at which tourism recovers depends on the progress of the pandemic and the possible development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. Nonetheless, he noted that his organization was "ready to restart tourism... It will be hard, but we will slowly increase the number of visitors and connectivity."
"It's very difficult to give numbers or forecasts but I think at the end of the year we will be ready to plan and give some forecast as to what will happen next year," he said. ■