The pandemic has been a catastrophe for tourism and travel, upending an almost $9 trillion industry that once accounted for approximately 330 million jobs around the world. And there continues to be great uncertainty about what the future holds. When will everyone feel safe to fly again? When we do, where will we want to go, and will we be able to afford it?

The road to recovery for American leisure and business travel will be long and complicated, according to Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and president ofAtmosphere Research Group.

Elizabeth Becker, the author of “Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism,” believes the pandemic has a silver lining, though. She says it has created an opportunity for U.S. policy makers to tackle tourism’s impact on the environment and its contribution to climate change. The industry can build back in a more sustainable way, she argues.

Three Takeaways:

  • Airlines and cruise lines have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. We haven’t had so many closed borders since the Cold War, says Becker. And there has also been a massive ripple effect on hotels, restaurants, car rental business, shops, convention centers and more, according to Harteveldt. “Yes, travel is fun,” he says, “But travel and tourism is a big job creator, a big revenue creator, a big tax revenue creator.” He adds, “It’s not just all going to recover overnight” and predicts that business travel will take longer to come back. It will be at least a three-year horizon for that, assuming that vaccines are widely available and we don’t get hit with another pandemic, says Harteveldt.
  • Becker says the U.S. is one of the few countries without a government tourism office. She argues that “government is at the heart of tourism” and urges the incoming Biden administration to reestablish the department of tourism (closed in the 1990s) and to establish a coordinated national effort to oversee and regulate the industry — paying particular attention to the issue of over-tourism and its effects on the environment. Harteveldt says the industry will also be looking for financial help from the government to aid its recovery.
  • Both Becker and Harteveldt think that when the tourism industry eventually makes a comeback, many people will be more thoughtful about the trips they take and consider their environmental impact. Harteveldt believes that younger travelers will demand greater corporate social responsibility and, although it won’t be a “true Kumbaya moment,” he does expect the industry will be responsive.