World Economic Forum Convenes Health, Travel and Tourism Experts to Prepare for Next Global Outbreak

Published
14 Mar 2018
2018
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Georg Schmitt, Head of Corporate Affairs, World Economic Forum: Tel.: +41 (0)79 571 8287; Email: georg.schmitt@weforum.org

· A pathogen can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in under 36 hours

· Current travel advisories and border measures unlikely to contain international spread of an outbreak

· More than 10% of global GDP and one in 10 jobs related to travel and tourism

· As part of the Forum’s work on global health security, the group of experts aims to minimize the impact of outbreaks on travel and tourism

Geneva, Switzerland, 14 March 2018 – The World Economic Forum today convened health, travel and tourism leaders to improve decision-making, coordination and communications relating to risk, travel advisories and border measures during epidemics and pandemics.

The number and kind of infectious disease outbreaks (e.g., influenza, Ebola, Zika, SARS, MERS-CoV, antibiotic resistant bacteria, etc.) have increased significantly over the past 30 years and, as global trade and travel increase, the international spread of disease is expected to grow. In today’s globalized world, a pathogen can travel from a remote village to major cities on all continents in under 36 hours.

Each new outbreak is accompanied by calls to ban flights and close borders, in hopes of containing the outbreak. However, these public interventions, along with other changes in consumer behaviour, typically have considerable economic impact and do little to slow the international spread of a virus. For example, efforts by countries to ban flights from nations with H1N1 outbreaks in 2009 were ultimately revealed to be ineffective in containing the virus; and the estimated loss associated with the H1N1 outbreak for the Mexican tourism industry was $5 billion. Similarly, between 2002 and 2004, as a result of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Hong Kong saw a 41% reduction in tourism GDP, Singapore 43% and China a 25% reduction and a loss of 2.8 million jobs. As was the case during H1N1, extensive airport screening introduced during the SARS outbreak was ineffective.

“In our interconnected world, travel-related preparedness is increasingly important for global health security, including at ports, airports and ground crossings. We need to ensure that all countries, particularly the most vulnerable, have the minimum critical health capacities in place for prevention, detection and response in line with the international health regulations. By bringing the public and private sectors together, we can make smarter decisions on how to improve these capacities,” said Peter Salama, Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the World Health Organization.

Travel and tourism account for $7.6 trillion annually, a total of 10.2% of global GDP and one in 10 jobs worldwide. Infectious disease outbreaks can have a significant negative economic impact on tourism and travel yet the sector is not optimally engaged in pandemic planning or in acute response to an outbreak.

“Travel and tourism are vital generators of livelihoods and the impact of a health pandemic can be devastating if not handled well. As Minister of Tourism in Mexico following the H1N1 outbreak, I have first-hand experience of the challenges and saw the need for improvements in crisis protocols. I believe this initiative will provide a much-needed framework for engagement with the travel and tourism sector, and private companies in particular, which can significantly improve management and reduce the impacts of health pandemics,” said Gloria Guevara, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Travel and Tourism Council.

During the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018, leaders across sectors called for enhanced public-private collaboration for an effective response to outbreaks globally before the next pandemic hits families and communities. “Our hope is that the public and private sectors can work together to change incentives, reduce uncertainties and create operationally reliable partnerships to improve future responses to outbreaks,” said Vanessa Candeias, Head of Global Health and Healthcare System Initiative, World Economic Forum.

Following the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, five major recommendations highlighted the need to minimize travel restrictions not based on scientific or public health grounds. In October 2017, the Forum joined the World Bank in convening finance, health and tourism leaders from about a dozen countries, private sector leaders and officials from organizations, including the World Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association, to simulate response to an outbreak of a mysterious respiratory virus in a hypothetical country.

The Forum has convened similar simulations during each of the past two Annual Meetings in Davos. Each one reveals that, despite being disproportionately affected by such outbreaks and subsequent decisions, the travel and tourism sectors are rarely involved in pandemic planning or in the acute response to an outbreak.

To address this challenge, the working group convened in Geneva today to put together a communication platform and related toolkit to share information, facilitate expert consultations, strengthen the public-private network operating in this space, and improve decision-making in the event of an outbreak. The group is co-led by the World Travel and Tourism Council, technically supported by the World Health Organization and consists of experts from across the public and private sectors.

This initiative on travel and tourism is part of the World Economic Forum’s Epidemics Readiness Accelerator. Throughout 2018, this accelerator will address challenges associated with public-private cooperation relied on for effective readiness for outbreaks. Other workstreams include: supply chain and logistics; legal and regulatory; data innovations; communications; and training and advocacy.

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.