None of us ever imagined that we’d have to see a world like this!
With the COVID-19 virus rampaging throughout the world causing people to shelter in their homes for most of the last few months, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Tourism Barometer showed a precipitous fall of 98% in international arrivals in May 2020 when compared with May 2019.
When further statistical data was collected, the Barometer also uncovered a 56% decline in tourist numbers for the first five months of 2020, translating into a loss of 300 million tourists and USD 320 billion lost in international tourism receipts. This is more than three times the loss during the global financial crisis of 2009.
Although several countries are opening up their borders for international travelers, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) panel of tourism experts expects international tourism will recover in the second half of 2021. And now that the vaccines have been rolled out in large numbers, we’re hopeful that things will pace up and traveling will resume sooner than expected.
We did a survey on behalf of Volunteering Solutions & tried to reach out to a bunch of enthusiastic travelers who have been a part of responsible tourism and asked them about what they’re thinking when it comes to travel planning. It was quite an interesting response – and we couldn’t be more delighted to see that more than 95% of people said they’d wanna travel during Summer 2021.
Let’s take a quick look and understand what Saurabh Sabharwal, CEO – Volunteering Solutions, has to say about the fears & possibilities of Volunteer Tourism in the Post-Pandemic times.
Q: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the organization?
Saurabh: Honestly, as the travel & hospitality industry has been hit the worst, we stopped receiving bookings since the month of February. People have been really skeptical of traveling, due to obvious reasons – and the call of the hour is to stay indoors. Our projects are highly dependant on the contribution of the volunteers, and since there have been none for the last 10 months, there has been a huge adverse impact – as well as financial crisis arising at all levels.
Q: When are you expecting things to get back to ‘new normal’?
Saurabh: We have been eagerly looking forward to the introduction of the vaccine, and until that becomes a reality for a majority, the fear psychosis would prevail among people. We don’t expect to get back to the pre-COVID numbers anytime before 2022, but we’re hopeful that people will start booking for 2021. It has been a long time that people have remained confined within the four walls of a home, and there’s a longing to set out and experience the world.
A week back, I had put out a poll on LinkedIn to understand the mindset of people and when they’d want to hit the roads again. To add to my surprise, the majority of the voters said that they would be keen to travel around October 2021. I’m hopeful that we’ll get adequate volunteers during that time of the year.
Q: Do you think people will be keen to step out of their comfort zones to volunteer abroad?
Saurabh: We are getting queries every day, which is a good sign. It helps us to believe that people are still confident that they can ride out the crisis and are making plans to resume traveling next year. We already have a few bookings for 2021, but we are offering flexible date-changing options – so that they have an assurance that their money will go for a toss. The future still looks uncertain, but all we can do is hope for things to get better, and follow the basic precautionary measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Q: Is there any specific type of traveler/ age group, that you are thinking will travel more?
Saurabh: The majority of our volunteers are college/university students and youngsters. So we are hopeful that travelers between the age of 18 to 30 years will resume their journeys, as they are the least vulnerable group of people.
Q: Which countries, according to you, will be the best destinations to travel & volunteer in the post-corona times?
Saurabh: As we all know, some countries (especially those in SE Asia and Africa) have tackled the spread of the Novel Coronavirus in the most applaudable manner & we would definitely recommend people to consider traveling to countries like Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Morocco, Kenya & Tanzania, Ghana, etc.
Q: What are the precautions that your in-country teams are taking, to ensure better safety for volunteers?
Saurabh: Of course, we have been already working on improving the safety measures and our in-country staff are abiding by the guidelines provided by WHO (like wearing masks at all times while interacting with people, washing hands at regular intervals, cleaning & sanitizing the volunteers’ accommodation, etc). Furthermore, each country has a set of rules that one needs to follow – in order to pass through the immigration process. We would only be allowing people with a COVID Negative certificate (tests to be done only 72 hours prior to getting in the country). 30 countries including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tanzania, Kenya, amongst others, have also received the Safe Travel Stamp by World Travel & Tourism Council – so things are better in those parts of the world. On our part, we would ensure that volunteers are safe (and maintain considerable distancing) while working on the projects.
For more information, you can write to us at [email protected] – and we’ll get back to you, soon!
Riyanka is a traveler who is keen on exploring different parts of the world. She’s a travel blogger who’s equally passionate about photography. Her quest is to turn all her journeys into beautiful stories. Being a die-hard ‘mountain-aholic‘, her favorite destinations are all around the Himalayas! She can spend days gazing at the snow-capped mountains, binge on Maggi and lemon-honey-ginger tea, and reading Ruskin Bond books.
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