EuroNews: In early March 2020, tour guide Yuval Ben-Ami was guiding a group of tourists in Finnish Lapland when the news broke that a coronavirus patient was being treated in nearby Rovaniemi, the city better known as the official home of Santa Claus.
It was after Italy had begun its lockdown in the northern province of Lombardy, but a few days before quarantine went countrywide in France, Spain and the Nordic states. In those early days of the outbreak, with COVID-19 largely confined to China, the group was not unduly concerned.
“Some cracked jokes of what daredevils we were, traveling in these times,” Ben-Ami said. It would be the last tour that Ben-Ami would give before borders across the world slammed shut.
Within days, like 66 million others in France, the 43-year-old tour guide was confined to his home in Luberon, Provence, forbidden from wandering more than one kilometer from his front door.
The impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry has already been stark: half the world’s population is under lockdown, while the number of flights worldwide has dropped from some 200,000 on February 21 to 64,000 on March 31, according to website FlightRadar 24.
European Union Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has claimed that the pandemic is costing Europe 1bn every month, while the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that worldwide tourist arrivals could fall by as much as 30% in 2020.
France had 89.4 million foreign visitors in 2018 and tourism accounts for 8% of GDP. The government estimates that two million people work directly or indirectly in the travel industry and many of those people, including Ben-Ami, are now out of work. He and his wife qualified and applied for aid from the French state and even though they are yet to receive the funds, the couple found the process quick and efficient.
“This is the first time I ever requested support form the state in my life, but there was no choice: after tightening the belt during the dead season, we found we now must punch another hole in it and do what we can to weather the storm,” he said.
History is dynamic and travel changes all the time.