Report: Pandemic Killed 1.6 Million Tourism Jobs Across Asia in 2020

TOPSHOT - This photograph taken on November 24, 2020 shows traditional longtail boats on Koh Yao Yai island in the Andaman Sea. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP) (Photo by MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a partial collapse of Asia’s tourism sector last year, eliminating 1.6 million jobs across five Asian countries, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported Thursday.

The ILO, a United Nations (U.N.) agency, released a report on November 18 in which it detailed the pandemic’s detrimental impact on Asia’s tourism economy in 2020, describing it as “nothing short of catastrophic.”

Across Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Mongolia “job losses in tourism-related sectors in 2020 were four times greater than in non-tourism sectors,” according to the ILO.

“Nearly one-third of total job losses were linked to the tourism sector with an estimated 1.6 million tourism-related jobs lost in these five countries alone,” the report revealed.

The ILO noted that many Asian economic sectors indirectly linked to tourism were also negatively affected by the pandemic, meaning the real estimate of total job losses due to the public health crisis “is likely to be much higher.”

The U.N. agency said Asia’s tourism industry had suffered such crippling setbacks over the past year that it was unlikely to recoup the employment levels it enjoyed pre-pandemic for at least the next several months.

“Even with countries in the region focusing heavily on vaccinations and designing strategies to slowly re-open borders, jobs and working hours in the tourism-related sector are likely to remain below their pre-crisis numbers in Asia–Pacific countries into next year,” Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said in a press release.

“In the Philippines, employment losses and decreases in average working hours in 2020 were among the largest,” ILO observed.

“Employment in the sector contracted by 28 percent (compared to an 8 percent loss in non-tourism related sectors) and average hours worked by 38 percent,” according to the report. “Workers in the tourism-related sector working zero hours per week rose two thousand-fold (affecting 775,000 workers).”

In terms of employment and average hours worked, Brunei’s tourism sector “contracted by more than 40 percent and nearly 21 percent respectively,” according to the ILO.

Brunei is an independent Islamic sultanate located on the island of Borneo, which is the largest island in Asia. Borneo is politically divided between Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Brunei’s economy relied heavily upon tourism pre-pandemic but saw this sector effectively shut down starting in early 2020.

“In Q2 [Quarter 2, i.e. January-March] 2020, the number of international visitors’ arrivals to Brunei Darussalam by land, sea and air reached an all-time low of 753 visitors in total compared to 1,107,323 visitors in Q2 2019,” Brunei’s Department of Economic Planning and Statistics detailed in a 2020 “Economic Development” report.

“Brunei Darussalam saw no visitors by cruise in Q2 2020. By air, the number of tourist arrivals declined from 79,199 in Q2 2019 to 202 in Q2 2020,” the department revealed.

The majority of Brunei’s 202 tourist arrivals by air in Q2 2020 “were students returning from [the] United Kingdom particularly in the month of June.”

Brunei’s hotel industry likewise suffered major setbacks last year, according to the report. The sultanate’s Tourism Development Department reported an average hotel occupancy rate in Q2 2020 of just 19.0 percent.

“The unfavourable development of the Tourism Industry in Q2 2020 is in line with the negative GDP growths of Air Transport and Hotels subsectors of 93.1 percent and 55.5 percent y-o-y [year-on-year], respectively,” the report stated.


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