Global health and tourism organisations call for coordination

As the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to develop and major travel events including this year’s ITB Berlin are cancelled, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have stated they are committed to working together in guiding the travel and tourism sectors’ response to COVID-19.

On 30 January 2020, the director-general of the WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and issued a set of Temporary Recommendations. The WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available and stated it is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to provide advice to countries and the global community on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.

In a joint statement on the 26th February, UNWTO and WHO stated they are working in close consultation and with other partners to assist countries in ensuring that health measures be implemented in ways that minimise unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.

They stressed that tourism’s response needs to be measured and consistent, proportionate to the public health threat and based on local risk assessment, involving every part of the tourism value chain – public bodies, private companies and tourists, in line with WHO’s overall guidance and recommendations.

Both organisations say they stand ready to work closely with all those communities and countries affected by the current health emergency, to build for a better and more resilient future. Travel restrictions going beyond these may cause unnecessary interference with international traffic, including negative repercussions on the tourism sector.

In a statement on the 28th February, UNWTO said that tourism’s continued growth and unique transformative potential is dependent upon stability and international solidarity. It stresses that the sector must, therefore, always put people and their wellbeing first.

UNWTO stated that the decision to cancel this year’s ITB Berlin on public health grounds shows that tourism is living up to its responsibility to put people first.