Tourism ministers have united in their calls for widespread use of rapid-result Antigen tests to help the return of international travel.
Leaders from Greece, the Philippines and Jordan joined Tui’s group director of corporate and external affairs, Thomas Ellerbeck, and the World Travel & Tourism Council’s chief executive Gloria Guervara in WTM’s annual Minister’s Summit.
The leaders called for universal travel protocols to allow for a uniform restart of global tourism and to reduce confusion among the travelling public.
Guevara said the “biggest challenge” facing the travel industry is a lack of international co-ordination. “There’s not enough sharing of best practices,” she said. “We must learn to co-exist, to learn from the past.”
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Harry Theoharis, minister of tourism for Greece, agreed there was “no coordination” internationally on testing and said it led to “confusion” among travellers which was putting them off booking future travel despite pent-up demand. “We need a recovery with less restrictions,” he said.
Jordan’s tourism minister Nayef Al-Fayez said: “We all know tourism is going to come back, it’s a matter of when.” He agreed “there needs to be more coordination” so travel returns with a “unified language”, noting: “Practices are different in one country than another. Coordination is a must for all of us. Not one country alone can solve this.”
Secretary of the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, said the country had created “travel bubbles” for popular tourist spots as it resumed domestic tourism, and had recorded zero Covid cases in those areas. She predicted a return to regional tourism from elsewhere in Asia before cross-continental travel – because of a lack of unified international travel protocols.
Tui’s Ellerbeck said “we have so many different regulations in Europe”, but praised individual destinations for their efforts. However, he suggested the private and public sectors must focus on source markets – and that “we should focus on antigen rapid tests more than PCR”.
Antigen and PCR tests both diagnose the virus. A PCR test must be sent to a lab while anitgen tests can be completed within 30 minutes. However, antigen tests are more likely to miss an active infection.
Ellerbeck noted that PCR tests have limited capacity and said antigen tests, in a double-testing strategy, were “very safe” and had “developed over the last three months”.
Theoharis said the Greek government had lobbied the EU in Brussels to permit the widespread use of raid antigen tests, adding: “This is the way forward. This is the way to replace bans or quarantine, apart from for those who test positive.”
Romulo-Puyat said “PCR is quite expensive”, and that the Philippines is piloting antigen tests and looking into the use of saliva tests too.
Guevara said the world’s tourism economy “cannot wait for a vaccine”, adding: “The antigen tests is the solution in our minds. It’s low cost and efficient.”
But she pointed out that central to the rollout of tests was a common international standard, so that the country of origin and destination were agreed on which test is accepted for travellers.
Guevara said the adoption of international standards will determine the speed of travel’s recovery. “If we can learn to co-exist, it would be 18 months,” she said. “If we cannot work together, it wil be three or four years.”