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September 24, 2023

“Travel Restrictions don’t Work”: UNWTO Adds its Voice to WHO Statement

Travel restriction

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has welcomed the call of its sister UN agency World Health Organization (WHO) for restrictions on travel to be lifted or eased.

Citing new evidence on the rise and spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, WHO has noted that restrictions on travel are not only ineffective but also counter-productive. Echoing UNWTO’s recuring warning against the use of blanket restrictions, the 10th meeting of the WHO’s International Health Regulations  Emergency Committee (Geneva, 19 January) concluded that such measures have done little to stop the spread of new variants and instead have caused social and economic harm, most notably in developing states.

The Committee also noted that travel restrictions can “discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging Variants of Concern”, in line with UNWTO’s warning at the end of 2021. The WHO also states that additional travel measures and mitigations, including but not limited to testing, isolation and quarantine, and vaccinations, should be always “evidence-based” and adapted to changing circumstances.

Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General, UNWTO
Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General, UNWTO

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says: “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 – to which UNWTO provided the official travel related data – has noted that in both developed and developing, recovery from the impacts of the pandemic is “uneven and fragile”. It also highlights the “substantial reversal in progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“It is imperative we restart tourism and so kickstart recovery and get back on track towards meeting the SDGs while responding to Climate Imperatives,” Mr Pololikashvili adds. “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.”

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