Dynamics of countries have been shifting as coronavirus continues to penetrate borders. Streets once buzzing with music, food, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, are now nearly uninhabited with clampdowns in effect. The pinch of travel bans and social restrictions have particularly hit local businesses and inadvertently resulted in an economic nosedive. Three writers speak to professionals across the tourism and hospitality spectrum to take stock of the repercussions.
In mid-February, even as the city’s most feted film festival Berlinale was underway and as news on the pandemic was trickling in, it was easy to sense a muted panic beginning to crystallise in Berlin. Albeit the onslaught of bright blue skies and the spring in full bloom, the official start of the tourism season couldn’t be met with habitual glee by Berliners this year. With the city emptying out of tourists, tour guides in brightly hued windcheaters are reduced to standing around at the city’s tourist nerve-centre, the now-deserted and forlorn looking Brandenburger gate, waiting for the non-existent tourist to arrive. “All my guided tours planned in the near future are cancelled,” said Alberto Hernandez a city-based professional tour guide. Hernandez who counts Spaniards among his main clients fears loss of work and income in the foreseeable future.
Since the threat of corona has been categorised as high in Germany with over 43,938 nationwide cases as of March 27, Berlin’s official tourism entity Visit Berlin warns its visitors about the border closure of the country with its neighbours in Denmark, Luxemburg, France, Austria and Switzerland. Popular attractions, museums, concert halls, and exhibitions have been shut until further notice. The estimated damage to tourism is still unquantifiable.
Hair, beauty and massage studios, and other non-essential shops have already been shut across the country. Restaurants will now only be allowed to open for takeaway service. The curbs have been further extended on social interactions by banning public gatherings of more than two people.
Xueh Magrini Troll, who part-times as a waitress at Neugrüns Köche, a restaurant in the upmarket Schönhauser Allee neighbourhood said her employers, “decided to close the restaurant for at least two weeks,” citing lack of customers. “This affects me for sure, since this was my extra income, [I don’t know how] to manage to pay all my bills.” Nevertheless, a sense of optimism was to be found everywhere. At a city’s popular cinema chain, closed now, the ticker, instead of the latest releases, read: Take Care of Each Other.
A survey run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the UK received 3.2 million visits in December 2019. The data is likely to plunge in the first quarter of 2020 owing to the travel restrictions imposed by the region to contain the pandemic. As of March 27, the UK had near 11,658 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, and 578 deaths with the highest concentration in London. In an attempt to contain the rapid spread of the virus, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-week nation-wide lockdown, in place until April 13.
The capital has seen the most number of coronavirus cases in the UK, and is believed to be several weeks ahead of the rest of the country. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office on March 17 advised British people against all non-essential travel worldwide for an initial period of 30 days. Some airlines like Virgin Atlantic allow passengers to change their booking without a fee. A representative said that while future bookings have taken a hit, flights at the moment are quite full as passengers are trying to make their way back home before more countries seal their borders.
A lockdown means all theatres and cinema halls across the UK have shut down until further notice. All events set to take place at Trafalgar Square—a top tourist attraction for public gatherings and political demonstrations in London—have been cancelled. The square which is normally milling with people trying to sneak in a picture atop the lions at Nelson’s column, has been abandoned. Luxury department store Selfridges, a favourite of tourists to London, has closed its doors after three members of staff contracted the dreaded coronavirus.
Panic shopping has left grocery stores with long empty isles. Restaurant businesses are desperately trying to keep afloat. Many people have already lost jobs and there is concern about people not being able to afford their rent. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced the government would pay 80 per cent of wages for employees who are unable to work—up to £2,500/Rs2,20,600 a month.
The Öresund region, which separates the Skåne region of Sweden from the Zealand region of Denmark (including the capital, Copenhagen) is now battling the coronavirus. Border crossing between the two countries has been temporarily suspended as Denmark—with 1,877 cases, as of March 27—has imposed a month-long measure by banning entries of all foreigners until April 13. Sweden has reported over 2,840 cases thus far.
The move to shut its borders should help Denmark contain the spread of virus. However, the adverse impact on tourism is already visible. “The business is under extreme pressure—many of the hotels and restaurants are facing a very tough year,” says Martin Bender, CEO of Destination Sydkystdanmark (an agency responsible for tourism development in the southern coast of Denmark). Normally, spring is the beginning of tourist season in Denmark. However, according to Bender, most hotels have seen cancelled bookings. The tangible fear prevailing in the tourism functions in both the countries is that this crisis will cost many jobs and the economies should brace themselves for quite a few companies supported by tourism to go bankrupt.
Storgatan, a popular walking street of Malmö, a Swedish city, which always brims with tourists, now wears a deserted look. Its equally popular coffee shops, where it’s often difficult to score a table, barely has any takers. “The business is so slow now, no one visits anymore!” said a server at a local café.
The only hint of a crowd can be seen at the supermarkets where people head out to stock up on groceries. For the elderly who are susceptible to catching the virus and refrain from shopping for supplies, a Facebook group of young volunteers offer to get the job done.
— Nitin Chaudhary
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