The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has echoed the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call to lift or ease travel restrictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WHO recently stated that restrictions on travel are “not only ineffective but also counter-productive” following new evidence on the rise and spread of the Omicron variant of the virus. At its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee meeting on January 19, the organisation concluded that such measures have done little to stop the spread of new variants and have instead caused social and economic harm, notably in developing states.

The WHO also stated that travel restrictions can “discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging Variants of Concern”, and that travel measures such as mask-wearing, testing, isolation/quarantine and vaccination should be based on risk assessments and adapt to changing circumstances.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said:

“When it comes to stopping the spread of new virus variants, travel restrictions are simply not effective. In fact, by cutting the lifeline of tourism, blanket restrictions do more harm than good, especially in destinations reliant on international tourists for jobs, economic wellbeing and sustainable change.”

The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects Report for 2022 revealed that the recovery from the impacts of the pandemic is “uneven and fragile” in developed and developing countries, and highlighted the “substantial reversal in progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

Pololikashvili commented:

“It is imperative we restart tourism and so kickstart recovery and get back on track towards meeting the SDGs while responding to Climate Imperatives. UNWTO welcomes WHO’s new guidance, highlighting the ineffectiveness of travel restrictions, and we also amplify their recommendations against using vaccination status as the sole condition for welcoming tourists back, especially when vaccination rates remain so uneven.”

This statement comes after the publication of UNWTO’s World Tourism Barometer, which showed that despite a 4 per cent rise in international tourist arrivals in 2021 compared to the previous year, tourist arrivals were still 72 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.