Recommendations for the Assistance to International Tourists in Emergency Situations
The closure of borders with little or no notice during the COVID-19 crisis left millions of tourists stranded abroad for periods which in some instances surpassed a month. This situation, combined with the confusion surrounding the attribution of responsibilities to assist tourists in situations of force majeure, left international tourists in a situation of neglect, aggravated by their vulnerability. International tourists, away from their homes, and out of their ‘comfort zones’, were faced with dealing with the pandemic and the confinement with little knowledge of the language, culture or laws of the country that they were stranded in.
The unprecedented situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only recent disruptive situation in which the lack of an international framework regarding the assistance to tourists in emergency situations has created confusion and a loss of the necessary confidence to travel abroad. These emergency situations, such as the one created by the COVID-19 pandemic, are unforeseeable, unavoidable and due to external events beyond the control of the parties, which may lead to the impossibility of the performance of the contract by the tourism service provider.
Pursuant to the programmatic priority for 2020-2021 to facilitate safe, secure and seamless travel, the Secretariat has prepared a set of recommendations based upon Article 6 of the “UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism” and Article 9 of the “UNWTO Framework Convention in Tourism Ethics”, as well as on the draft “UNWTO Convention on the Protection of Tourists and on the Rights and Obligations of Tourism Service Providers”, especially its Annex I (“Assistance in emergency situations”). They are addressed to Member States and are intended to support governments and the private sector in their efforts for international tourism recovery in the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic, while guaranteeing an appropriate degree of protection of international tourists in the event of an emergency situation caused by such unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances. However, they are neither exhaustive nor are they intended to be definitive. They will be subject to review and approval by UNWTO Governing Bodies.
The Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics was adopted by the General Assembly at its 23rd session held in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation (2019), through Resolution A/RES/722(XXIII) and has not yet entered into force. It has been built around the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, a comprehensive set of nine principles addressed to stakeholders in tourism development with the objective of maximizing the benefits of tourism in promoting sustainable development and poverty alleviation as well as understanding among nations. Under their sixth principle, both the Convention and the GCET set out obligations for States in relation to travel advisory information in emergency situations and repatriation mechanisms.
On the other hand, a preliminary draft Convention on the Protection of Tourists and on the Rights and Obligations of Tourism Service Providers was welcomed by the General Assembly at its 22nd session held in Chengdu, China (2017), through Resolution A/RES/686(XXII). Its main objectives are, firstly, to establish uniform rules to ensure and promote an appropriate degree of protection of tourists as consumers, particularly in emergency situations, by giving them primary and basic assistance and enhancing the cooperation between States in these exceptional circumstances. Secondly, to clarify the rights and obligations of tourism service providers ensuring a fair balance between the responsibility of States, private sector and tourists. Precisely, the overall objective of this draft Convention was to improve tourists’ confidence in tourism service providers, States and in the tourism sector as a whole. These recommendations are based upon the work conducted by UNWTO and its member States in the drafting of the Convention.
These recommendations apply to Members States, all tourists and tourism services providers. Nevertheless, given the different realities and regulatory frameworks of both national governments and tourism authorities to take action, it is appreciated that these recommendations are not applicable in all cases. They aim to guide policy action to mitigate the impact of the crisis and accelerate recovery through the restoration of tourists’ confidence in the capacity of tourism stakeholders to protect them and assist them in emergency situations ensuring that no one is left behind.