Hospitality industry faces Omicron variant with concerns over travel bans

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Skift take

We are still a few weeks away from knowing how much of an impact the Omicron variant will have on the travel industry. But businesses can already see how much of a role government can play in changing the course of the recovery.

Cameron Sperance

It only took less than three weeks to go from top hotel CEOs predicting a record high in 2022 to a new variant of the coronavirus raising fears of another plunge in the travel industry.

The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last week, has sparked a global wave of travel bans and restrictions in recent days on international arrivals from several African countries. World leaders like US President Joe Biden on Monday called Omicron a “worrying variant” while stressing that it was not about panicking.

But it’s already clear that Omicron is a speed bump in the travel industry’s road to recovery.

Even though it is still early days to be able to predict the impact of the new variant on the world, Omicron is another reminder that the government’s response – overreaction, some say – may disrupt a takeover of hotels many considered. like finally gaining global momentum.

“Government overreaction and government interference in travel is going to be the lasting legacy of Covid, and I think that’s kind of what we’re seeing this time around,” said Richard Clarke, chief executive. covering global leisure and hotels. in Bernstein.

He noted that it’s early to discern a lot about the new variant.

“Before Covid, no one probably would have thought that governments had special power or would be aware of the power to just ban flights and close borders for health reasons,” Clarke said.

Countries like the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom have called their newly rolled travel restrictions initiatives designed to buy time to better understand the variant and prepare for any increase in pending cases. Many countries that ban travel have a higher number of cases, even if it is the earlier Delta variant, than countries to which they temporarily ban international travel.

The new round of targeted travel restrictions came weeks after more international borders reopened. For example, the United States re-authorized entry from early November of vaccinated foreign travelers from 33 countries, including South Africa. The hospitality industry widely viewed the move as a crucial step in the recovery of properties in major cities that relied on international travelers to fill rooms.

Travel restrictions were once seen as a much-needed mitigation strategy against the spread of the virus, and some have argued for earlier government action to seal the borders. Closing borders was one of the few tools available to governments before the roll-out of vaccines and booster shots.

But industry chatter over the past few weeks has focused on the feasibility of government restrictions and the potential overbreadth when it comes to pandemic restrictions. China’s zero tolerance policy towards new cases, once touted as a global example, has turned into an economic responsibility.

The country had the best-performing hotel industry for much of the pandemic recovery, but even European hotels – seen as lagging behind for their reliance on long-haul travelers – outperformed those in China in these recent years. last few weeks.

But the emergence of a new wave of targeted restrictions on international travel around the world, for as long as it is, is a grim reminder that hotel companies and other travel entities may need to sleep with one eye open. ‘to come up.

“That’s what worries me is that it’s going to change human behavior, so the longer term thinking is to always be worried,” Clarke said. “The post-Covid world can shut down. This power has been released from the bag.

He is not alone in voicing his concerns about governments hampering the industry’s ability to navigate the recovery.

The CEOs of Marriott, Hilton and IHG predicted at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference earlier this month that their respective recoveries will slow significantly during 2022.

But Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin, whose company has a strong presence in Asia-Pacific and Australia – two regions with stricter reopening guidelines than Western countries – was not so rosy.

“I just don’t know,” Bazin said of Accor’s 2022 outlook ahead of Omicron, when the Delta variant was the main cause for anger. “I depend on vaccination rates and government officials, and I hate it.”

The new wave of travel restrictions has sparked calls for fairness in vaccines, an issue reported throughout the year by Lebawit Lily Girma, global travel journalist for Skift. The hoarding of vaccines by Western countries left much of Africa without access to doses during the first deployments.

According to the New York Times Global Immunization Tracking Journal, only about 10 percent of people in Africa have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, compared to 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe. .

It would appear that vaccine equity would be a greater mitigation effort against this variant and future variants than economically damaging travel bans.

South African leaders on Monday strongly condemned countries around the world for enacting travel bans across much of southern Africa.

Joe Phaahla, South African Minister of Health, according to The Times, relayed a conversation to reporters on Monday that he had with the US Secretary of Health and Human Services: “What you can do is say to your president and your government that travel bans are not helping. us, they just make it more difficult.

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