Governments have to kick start international travel and communicate clearly on travel requirements, say global industry leaders.

David Scowsill, former president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), said: “The kick start has to be led by governments.

“It’s going to be led by testing, by vaccination programmes and by clear communication about what customers are allowed and not allowed to do.”

Taleb Rifai, former general secretary of the UN World Tourism Organisation, agreed: “it’s in the hands of governments. The private sector is simply reacting to what governments are doing and each government is working alone.”

He added: “The industry needs to speak with one voice to try to harmonise procedures everywhere in the world.”

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Scowsill said destination governments also “have to step up. They have to support local businesses and put marketing dollars in place to start driving people back in when the time is right.”

He argued: “Businesses want clarity of communication from governments. They have been haemorrhaging badly. The short-term implications are pretty die. The long-haul travel market, in particular, is going to be difficult. It’s going to be a long climb out.

“The destinations that get out fastest will be those that put government money into tourism organisations and prop up businesses and, when the time comes, start spending significantly on marketing.”

Scowsill added: “The relaunch and communication of this will be really important. That is one of the reasons Taleb and I are now working with Finn Partners.”

Rifai and Scowsill joined marketing and communications agency Finn Partners last month to support businesses and destinations recover from the pandemic.

Scowsill explained: “Finn is a global business – within travel, there are a number of large businesses and a lot of government work with tourist boards. We will work with them to help plan a way through this, to relaunch travel.”

Rifai insisted: “I see light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to go through some hard times before we get there because we need to build the international system again from the bottom up.

“Travel has become essential in people’s lives. I’m sure travel will come back, but how and when is the big question. When depends on when the world realises it has to work together. Now each government is working on its own.”

Scowsill agreed: “Travel is definitely going to come back, but it’s going to come back at different speeds by segment and by geography. And if you’re running an airline or hotel business or cruise line, you have to make different assumptions on your planning cycles.

“Airlines have to think about flying programmes and the shape of the network they are going to have over the next three to four years. It’s going to be a slow climb out and they will be planning towards 2023-24 to have a reasonable flying programme in place. But it will probably be smaller than in 2019.

“The upside is that it’s going to be more environmentally friendly because airlines have taken the opportunity to remove a lot of older aircraft from their fleets.”

He insisted: “I’m optimistic about travel coming back, even business travel. We’ve become used to conference calls, but most of these are with people we’ve already built relationships with rather than new people. There is going to be pent-up demand for business travel.

“The difficulty is that none of us can anticipate how fast travel is going to come back and where it’s going to come back, and there lies the planning problem for the sector.”