It’s become paramount to set common health and safety rules for the global tourism industry, says the World Travel & Tourism Council — which is why it has worked with industry partners to create the new “SafeTravels” Stamp.
By Deborah Sanborn | Outpost Travel Health
(feature photo: Colin O’Connor/Outpost)
Setting a global standard is not an easy do, especially when it comes to health and safety protocols — as we’ve all seen (and continue to see) over the past two years, and even two months here in Canada.
Having said that, progress (in my opinion) is about moving towards setting community, national, or even international standards in just about any industry (or for any issue). And here in 2022, I think it’s common knowledge that it’s often motivated by moral imperatives or changing circumstances, increased awareness or insight into an issue, or by a few courageous people pushing things forward and leading by example, as one famed anthropologist once famously said.
Having said that, much of change (or at least, sustainable change) can’t really happen without the greater community or masses participating (which is not my value judgment, and I believe, not necessarily a good thing).
Nonetheless, it’s probably true that if the worldwide tourism industry hopes to recover more sustainably after the COVID pandemic (with hopes that can actually happen in 2022), moving towards a “new normal” (as many are calling it) of higher safety and health standards is a good thing.
One of the organizations describing “a new normal” in tourism is the World Travel & Tourism Council one of the leading bodies on the global tourism sector, whose self-described mission is in part to promote “sustainable growth” and generate prosperity for all involved. (You can learn about the WTTC here.)
Apart from advocacy, the WTTC compiles statistics on the industry worldwide, and what they reveal is impressive — in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, the WTTC reported that travel and tourism accounted for 1 in 4 new jobs across the world (which is really astounding), for about 10.4 percent of global GDP (equal to about $9.2 trillion USD), with “international visitor spending” at $1.7 trillion USD during that year alone.
By 2020, almost 62 million jobs were lost in the global tourism industry because of COVID. Moreover, “the threat of job losses persists,” the WTTC reports, “as many jobs are currently supported by government retention schemes and reduced hours, which without a full recovery of Travel & Tourism could be lost.”
The travel and tourism sector is enormous, and it was growing exponentially till the pandemic hit. And though the industry has faced more scrutiny over the past few years, it isn’t likely humans will ever loose interest in getting up to go see what’s life like on another spot the planet.
Yet one of the lessons we must take seriously in the wake of the pandemic, to keep the sector growing safely but more fairly for more, are new ways of doing things, and maybe that especially applies to health and safety protocols. Protecting local people (and their families and wider communities) who host you, feed you, guide you, entertain you and just let you in, and do it to make a living, has to have a higher priority.
Creating international health and safety standards and protocols — and having travellers embrace them as part of a new way of doing things (like wearing a mask, on a plane, without fuss, for a few hours of your life!) — can really help with that.
“It is paramount to have common rules,” the WTTC states in the wake of the pandemic. Not only for travel operators but for travellers too, who must be more cautious in just being out and about in the world. “We envision a future of travel which is safe, secure, seamless and provides an authentic and meaningful experience” both to travellers and to the many people who rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
It likely might be just too tall an order — with its global mandate — but to that end and in the wake of the pandemic, the WTTC has designed a new program called “Safe Travels: Global Protocols & Stamp for the New Normal,” which outlines modern health, hygiene, and safety protocols (and offers “how-to” toolkits) for eight (so far) sectors within the global tourism industry: hospitality, outdoor retail, aviation, airports, cruising, tour operators, convention centers and MICE, car rental, insurance, and short-term rental.
Operators in these sectors can freely access the toolkits and guidelines (some of which are already industry or local standards), then once implemented, apply for the WTTC’s “SafeTravels” stamp, which can be displayed and promoted as a marketing tool to customers and travellers. (Our Travel Health Center page lists 7 operators that have the WTTC’s SafeTravels stamp.) Like any stamp of approval, the SafeTravels stamp conveys an operator’s way of doing business, what the traveller should be able to expect, but also what’s expected of the traveller.
After this horrific pandemic experience, we can’t emphasize enough (especially to you, dear traveller, with your empathetic heart!) how less-developed countries with still-developing healthcare systems and economies are most vulnerable. The push to tread more lightly and carefully into other lands, communities, cultures and places that welcome you has never felt greater.
Look for the SafeTravels Stamp Displayed by Certified Operators
To get a sense of what the new WTTC’s SafeTravels stamp involve, you can go directly to the source here, but some of the detail can be overwhelming to the consumer. But what consumers can do is look to see if any operator has the SafeTravels stamp, and ask that operator about it, especially companies you may choose to travel with. It’s not only an opportunity to learn more about how to travel safely in the post-(current)pandemic era, but also gives operators great feedback that travellers support it. You can also check your own national, regional or local tourism association to see if they are partners in the stamp program.
It’s important to keep in mind that as the WTTC itself acknowledges when describing the new program, global, regional and even local standards of safety and public health can change, evolve, and be rethought at any point due to unexpected or changing circumstances that have flipped on a dime. I think by now we all know, are expecting or just wouldn’t be surprised that another seemingly infinitesimal organism can come along and try to take us down at any point in time. But hopefully you now know too, that the best way forward is to go as armed as possible, and with empathy and an understanding of our shared humanity.
I once asked a very experienced expeditioner how he stays safe on his very risky adventures — ones that have included crossing a frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia and a multiday trek through dense Borneo jungle for Outpost. His answer was something like, “I take the adventure out of my adventures because the adventure is adventurous enough.” He goes prepared, respects the natural world, is cooperative and a good team player, and stays smart. And has an amazing experience, pretty much every time.
Just stretching beyond the borders of your own community, or stepping onto a train, plane or bus, or hitting the open road, or being in a different place, or learning about another culture, or seeing how people live on the opposite side of an ocean — well, that’s all pretty adventurous, when you think about it. Adhering to a few new health and safety protocols to keep all that on the table of possibilities is a small fee to pay. No biggie, traveller, you got this.
This information is a guideline only. Always (always!) get individual medical advice from your doctor, a travel health doctor, or at a travel health clinic before travelling. In fact, we always advise that your first point of planning for any trip should be booking an appointment with your family doctor or at a travel health clinic (which specialize in destination health and safety info, and requirements). Be advised too, that some destination-specific vaccines or preventatives (such as for malaria or traveller’s diarrhea) may require multiple doses, and thus require days/weeks/months of spacing between. So, when it comes to travel and health, start your planning sooner than later!
A Q&A with Celia Brennan, Global Operations Manager, Intrepid Travel, on why they’re participating in the WTTC’s SafeTravels Stamp program:
Outpost: Why was it important for Intrepid to adopt the WTTC’s SafeTravels stamp — in place of, for example, just designing and adopting your own internal program, where you might have more control?
Brennan/Intrepid: The WTTC Safe Travels stamp was designed to identify tourism businesses who have adopted protocols that would allow travel to resume safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s important to know that these protocols were developed in collaboration with WTTC members — including Intrepid — as well as with leading industry associations and international organizations. Intrepid was a contributor to and an early adopter of these protocols.
We thought it was important to have support [for] a global set of industry-wide protocols, as this would ensure consistency throughout the supply chain.
It’s also important to know that Intrepid also has our own set of detailed COVID-19 operating guidelines that work alongside the WTTC protocols. Our guidelines are tailored to the specific risks and needs of our business, they complement the WTTC protocols.
Outpost: In your opinion, what is Intrepid hoping the SafeTravel stamp program will do for the travel industry globally, and for companies and operators individually?
Brennan/Intrepid: The more parts of the industry that adopt and identify themselves as meeting these protocols, the quicker and easy it will be for the tourism industry to restart. Customers will only travel if they feel safe, and it is critical that the tourism industry works together to ensure this.
Outpost: What has the response been thus far to Intrepid’s COVID-vaccine mandate for all travellers (that travellers must be vaccinated to travel with Intrepid). Generally, what has the response been from customers/travellers thus far; that is, if you’ve been able to gauge that at this time?
Brennan/Intrepid: Overwhelmingly positive. Even before our vaccine mandate, around 94% of our customers were vaccinated on our trips, highlighting that our customer base was very supportive of vaccination. It is also mandatory for leaders on our trips to be vaccinated and again, our tour leaders have been very supportive of this move.
Intrepid travels to parts of the world where we mix with local and vulnerable communities and we take our responsibility to keep those communities safe seriously. This may mean taking extra measures over and above vaccination (for example, testing our porters before they return to their local communities).
Outpost: What is your hope for 2022 in terms of travel ability (what you’ve been able to gauge so far); do you think travel will make a solid recovery in 2022?
Brennan/Intrepid: I think there are many reasons to be positive about the return of travel in 2022. I think customer confidence is returning and there is plenty of pent-up demand for travel. I think Intrepid is well placed to deliver the type of product customers want to travel on in 2022, in small groups, away from crowds, with a focus on sustainability and experiential travel.
Effective and readily available vaccines, fast and accurate methods of testing, enhanced sanitation, hygiene, [and] ventilation standards in many destinations have all helped make it safer to travel. Governments are moving towards more streamlined and less arduous entry and exit requirements, and I think we will see improved treatment for COVID-19 that will also assist the world to live with the virus.
I think companies will need to remain agile for the next couple of years, understanding that there may be outbreaks and areas of concern in some parts of the world while other parts of the world are open for tourism.
Outpost: Finally, what is your general impression (if you have one) so far of returning consumers/travellers; are they cooperative toward these new standards and goals?
Brennan/Intrepid: Our customers have been very supportive of protocols on trips throughout the pandemic. Currently 92% of customers report feeling safe on our trips, with many actively praising the various measures put in place to keep customers, leaders and local communities safe.
We have worked hard to ensure that any protocols on trips fit seamlessly into the experience so that the focus can remain on the travel and the adventure itself. ♦
The information provided in the Outpost Travel Health Center are guidelines only. Always (always!) get individual medical advice from your doctor, a travel health doctor, or at a travel health clinic before travelling. In fact, we always advise your first point of planning for any trip should be booking an appointment with your family doctor or at a travel health clinic (which specialize in destination health and safety info, and requirements). Be advised too, that some destination-specific vaccines or preventatives (such as for malaria or traveller’s diarrhea) may require multiple doses, and thus require days/weeks/months of spacing between. So, when it comes to travel and health, start your planning sooner than later.