Let’s Travel More During Coronavirus

Before you abuse me, can we at least open a conversation?

I travel. I work in travel. And I want people to keep travelling, during the coronavirus pandemic. I want people to travel more, now and in the future. But as I kneel with my head in the gallows, ready for the barrage of rotting fruit and viral attacks on my irresponsibility, let me at least spout some final words.

Restaurant owners in Northern Italy wait for tourism to return

Back in March I wrote about the challenges of travelling during the pandemic. To summarise the response, I was a privileged white millennial male, recklessly endangering lives, and destroying communities. Could I not just stop being selfish and stay in one place, just for once?

Travellers are the easy scapegoat and coronavirus was quickly blamed on people travelling. There’s some logic, if people don’t travel things don’t spread. Just imagine, without the Silk Route, travellers wouldn’t have brought smallpox and the plague from East to West. Nor paper, silk, tea, rice, millet, porcelain, bronze, jade, stained glass, gunpowder, and an incredible collaboration in science and technology.

Travel has always brought the good and bad. It has always needed creative solutions. Back in 1025, the Persian polymath Ibn Sina argued for a 30-day day isolation period to prevent the spread of contagious disease among trading routes. He was born in Bukhara, now Uzbekistan, the very heart of the Silk Route.

Bukhara’s 11th-century wealth remains apparent today

The idea was adapted by the Venetians as an isolation period for ships wanting to dock and later became 40 days, hence quarantina (40 days in Italian) from the Latin quadraginta (40).

Without these interventions, goods and people and technology couldn’t travel safely. Bukhara and Venice would not have been among the most prosperous cities of their era. Travel created and supported communities then, just like it did before coronavirus.

Tourism in 2019 represented 10.4% of global GDP. It’s more than 20% in many of the world’s poorer economies. Over 300 million people work in tourism — that’s one in 11 jobs worldwide. It’s an industry employing a disproportionately high percentage of women, young people and the lesser educated.

10.4% is just tourism, in addition to entire economies structured around the process of travel and trade. When we travel we don’t just move and explore. We connect, we share, we spread wealth and yes, we may spread coronavirus, while supporting livelihoods and communities.

Italy’s tourism industry is projected to be down “$68.2bn on last year — thousands of jobs in Venice are already lost” (Giorgio Palmucci, president of the Italian national tourist board)

The basic philosophy along the Silk Route was to benefit from what comes from over there. An opposing narrative dominates today. What we see and hear are rising cases, excess deaths, and some poor place doing worse than our own.

We’re told to stop what’s coming from over there. We’re scared to travel because we’re told it’s not safe over there. But all around the world we are fighting the same disease. It is no longer a novel coronavirus, it is Covid-19.

It’s not absolutely safe where you are, just like it is not absolutely dangerous over there. We can shut down our borders and stop all travel but then what? See how long our community can survive in an era when self-sustainability is a buzzword not the norm? And for what? To stop people importing a disease that is already endemic?

The Italian Confederation of Business report that 70% of Florence hotels have not reopened since March

I know it’s not a popular viewpoint and I’ll say it again — I want to travel more. So as I’m frogmarched to the executioner I request that you are specific in your damnation. Preface your abuse by telling me where travellers are not welcome. If your community doesn’t want to see people like me it’s better that all travellers know in advance.

And if you want to support the 10.4%, the 1 in 11 people employed by tourism, the communities that rely on travel, let’s work together and share what we can. Not coronavirus, but the advance information that will make travel safer.

All around the world there are changing restrictions. Every country has its own approach to limiting the spread. Every community and every community member tries to live and laugh and survive, while staying safe and getting through a pandemic.

I’m based in Alicante, Spain. I can tell you that there is no quarantine on arrival and you must wear a face mask in public, but not on the beach or when seated at cafes or in parks. I can tell you that the tram system is very safe, but it’s best to avoid the central market after midday, especially on Saturdays. Travellers are very welcome here, as long as they absolutely adhere to the restrictions.

The majority of tourism-reliant businesses on Alicante’s famous Mushroom Street have closed

It’s the same virus everywhere but the restrictions and information are very different. It is information we need to share, not so we can feel superior to somewhere else, but so we can help each other.

If people can provide health and travel updates in the form of a very simple app, people can understand where they can travel, where they are welcome, what restrictions apply and how to stay safe.

Then as a community we can reverse the devastating impact fear and misinformation has on the tourism sector. We can wake up with a confidence that there is still more to our world than the end of our street. And if we share information we can all start to feel more safe, more confident and more united in our global battle against the same disease.

The app TripSafe is attempting to do just this — crowdsourcing information so both communities and travellers can feel more safe and prevent any unnecessary spread of Covid-19.

If you don’t want travellers in your community then support the app and tell the traveller community.

If you want travellers to return then let them know.

And if you want to travel then travel safely, with the most reliable information.

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