Finance

The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion.

Governments, tourism boards, airlines, hotel companies, travel agencies and cruise operators, along with tour bus drivers, housekeepers, local guides, pilots, restaurateurs, museum operators, bed-and-breakfast hosts, entertainers, caterers, fishermen, shopkeepers and bar owners — in short, all the people standing to profit from tourism dollars — are facing extreme economic pressure not to lose out on another tourism season. The past year without travel, when international arrivals dropped from 1.5 billion to 381 million, was devastating. For many, another similar year would be unthinkable.

And so an already stressed system has been forced to confront an existential quandary: Do countries opt for continuing international lockdowns, or do they increase the risk of disease and court much-needed tourism revenue? New Zealand, which, through a combination of stringent lockdowns, border closures and strict quarantines, has all but eliminated the coronavirus from its shores, has staked its claim at one end of the spectrum. Greece appears to be claiming the other.

There are no easy answers, no universal solutions. In many cases, the onus will fall on individual tourists — the fortunate and vaccinated few, plied with incentives and feverish for travel — to thoughtfully navigate the ethical considerations.

Of all the variables, only one thing seems inevitable: The choices we make, whether to venture out or huddle close to home, are unlikely to bode well for the individual workers — the unfortunate and unvaccinated many — who, by dint of circumstance, are vulnerable to both the virus and the teetering fortunes of a hard-hit industry.

“I do think we’ve learned important lessons over the course of the year about how to engage more safely in public spaces,” said Dr. Fortune, who emphasized that it’s important for vaccinated travelers to continue testing, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“I think the real danger,” she added, “is that the most vulnerable people are the ones who have the least ability to mitigate risk.”

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