. Restarting the Travel Industry Will Be a Gradual Process | Northstar Meetings Group

Restarting the Travel Industry Will Be a Gradual Process

The U.S. Travel Association recommends a phased approach that relies on recommended health and safety practices. 

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The Latest CDC Guidelines for Events
The recommendations cover how to prevent the spread of the virus and provide a ranking of what types of events pose the greatest risks. Check it out here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the travel and tourism sector has been the most severely affected industry, with travel spending expected to fall a staggering 45 percent this year. 

"While this is a public health crisis first and foremost, of course it has resulted in an economic crisis as well," said Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the U.S. Travel Association, during a media briefing on July 14. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, travel-related job losses have surpassed 8 million and represent 38 percent of all jobs lost. The unemployment rate [in the travel sector] is at 51 percent, which is more than twice the highest unemployment rate during the worst year of the Great Depression during 1933." 

As the pandemic stretches into its fourth month, industry experts are advocating for a safe return to travel. 

"I think we've learned a lot in the past couple of months and that we can move forward with some travel, but this is not going to be travel like we used to know," said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "It's going to be very, very different and we can't tolerate huge crowds. We can't tolerate places where we don't have good physical distance."

Barnes noted that the restarting of travel will likely be a gradual, phased process that varies across the country depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in that region. Across the board, all travelers and travel businesses will need to abide by new health and safety practices. 

"It is very clear that a true economic recovery cannot happen until good health practices become universal, starting first and foremost with wearing a mask," said Barnes. "Our guiding principle is that without health and safety, there simply can be no travel." 

How to Ensure Safe Travel

As important as it is that hotels, restaurants and other venues adopt enhanced cleaning practices, travelers too must follow recommended guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

"Hotels, for example, are not unsafe at all. It's what you do in them that can put you at risk," said Perl. "If we want to move forward and open up these different industries, it's not negotiable whether or not you wear a mask. It's not negotiable whether you've got hand sanitizer and you're using it… This is the new normal that is going to have to happen."

According to Perl, washing your hands with soap or using a hand sanitizer can reduce the risk of transmitting any kind of respiratory virus by 50 percent. Social distancing also reduces the transmission risk by 50 percent, while wearing a mask can lower the risk of catching COVID-19 by as much as 70 percent. 

Other safety precautions that Perl recommends include visiting destinations with fewer cases of COVID-19, driving rather than taking public transportation, being outdoors as much as possible, avoiding crowds and cancelling plans if you are sick.

While many airlines, hotels and businesses are implementing temperature screenings and COVID-19 tests, Perl warned people against assuming that a negative test means they are safe. According to research from Johns Hopkins Medicine, some coronavirus tests have a false negative rate of 20 percent.

"Don't be fooled that if you go to a place that is screening, that you're totally safe and you don't need to wear a mask. Screening is a great step, but it has its risks and so, in and of itself it is not going to protect you," said Perl. "In an outbreak, you have to assume that everybody is infectious -- which is really why we have focused so much on masks and hand hygiene."