Watching more TV news than ever? Thinking the country is overrun with bad guys looting and destroying storefronts? Thanks to the current elected officials… you know them, they occupy buildings and residents paid for with tax dollars and are totally clueless on how to contain COVID-19 while maintaining full employment – we have large amounts of unscheduled time available. The Internet and television offer us the opportunity to watch violence and crime erupting on the streets of cities and towns around the world amplifying the notion that we may be dormant but community disrupters are very busy.
Free Time Was of Value
Under different circumstances we would be happy campers with free time – seemingly endless recess! We would use this time to travel, workout at the gym, visit with friends and family, take additional college courses; however, COVID-19 time means that we are quarantined in our homes, unless, of course, we are fortunate to be part of the uber rich who flaunt their free time by jetting to their second (or third or fourth) homes, taking selfies on their yachts, showing their Zoom faces without makeup but with backdrops of glorious designer inspired homes and gardens. For those of us who are locked into small Manhattan apartments, time hangs heavy on our hands.
If it were only COVID-19 – perhaps we would be able to shoulder this medical emergency with greater confidence and aplomb. Unfortunately, it is not just the coronavirus, it is also the large numbers of unemployed, the demise of small businesses, the killing of people who have been murdered or harmed because of their color, not because of their actions. The damage to the American sense of democracy has been perpetrated by people who do not believe that protests are good for society and are important and visible ways to demonstrate our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the right to assemble.
Through the protests and demonstrations, we learn every day that the people elected to lead our city, state and federal government agencies are totally inadequate as they lack the intelligence, moral compass and skill set necessary to lead us through these very dark days. From city councils to state legislatures, from mayors to governors, from senators to advocacy groups, how these individuals found their way to the top of many agencies and organizations is beyond my comprehension. These people would be challenged to run a neighborhood coffee shop and yet they have the authority (and the power) to run the United States of America, controlling how we live and how we die.
Criminals are Busy in New York
While many of us are spinning our wheels in quarantine, others are out and about creating mayhem in the streets. A look at recent crime statistics shows that in New York murders have increased by over 30 percent (235 vs. 181) for the first seven months of 2020 when compared to the first seven months of 2019. There were 244 citywide shooting incidents in July 2020, compared to 88 shooting incidents in July 2019, an increase of approximately 177 percent. Year to date, through July 31, there was a 72 percent spike in citywide shooting incidents (772 vs. 450). There has also been an increase in burglaries – up 31 percent (1297 vs. 989) in July and up approximately 45 percent (8594 vs. 5932) year to date through July 31.
It is interesting to note that for the month of July, rape decreased by approximately 6 percent (153 vs. 163); however, rape is under-reported and this statistic may not be correct. Although the media leads us to believe otherwise, hate crimes actually declined by approximately 29 percent (170 vs. 241).
Tourism on Life Support
When criminal activity is added to the pandemic, the on-going attention to nose swabs, airport restrictions, multiple closures to indoor dining and outdoor sports stadiums, and Broadway theatre halted until 2021, it is not a surprise that tourism in New York is on life-support. In the last quarter of fiscal year 2020, ending June 30, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer estimated that the loss to the City in hotel taxes amounted to $270 million, plus, another $250 million in tourism related sales tax revenue for the same period.
In the days BC (before COVID-19), the Big Apple was the Real Deal, with record tourism growth for the last 10 years. In 2019, visitor spending supported in excess of 403,000 jobs, generating +/- $72 billion in total economic activity (July 2020 Report, NYC & Company). In 2019, travel and tourism activities were responsible for $7 billion in state and local taxes, including $4.9 billion for the New York City.
Closed, Cancelled, Postponed
As a result of current conditions in New York, Stringer’s office has projected a $1.5 billion loss for the city’s tourism tax revenues in fiscal 2021, representing 25 percent of the city’s normal revenue from hotel occupancy taxes and sales tax revenue.
In September 2019, the fall fashion shows, tennis matches and UN programs attracted over 908,000 people, producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from such sources as hotels, restaurants, retail and public transportation plus sales and occupancy taxes.
The US Open tennis tournament (held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Queens) is being held without fans in the seats. In 2019, the event posted attendance of nearly 738,000 spectators with another 115,355 participating in the US Open Fan Week (7 days of free activities prior to the main event). Fashion Week will be held digitally, and it is unlikely there will be any live shows with audiences. Even St. Patrick’s Cathedral is facing a $4 million budget crisis (25 percent of its annual income). The church relies on donations collected at Mass to operate (from lighting to staffing paychecks) and with visitor decline and the absence of fund-raising events, operating funds are just not available.
Australian Crime Decreases Tourism
New York does not stand alone when it comes to tourism decline from a mix of criminal activity and COVID-19. The Northern Territories of Australia are facing increases in crime along with decreases in tourism. According to the Tourism Central Australia Chairperson, Dale McIver, the consequences of crime extends well beyond damage, “The effect on not only the cost of the ongoing crime and damage, but the emotional wellbeing of business owners and staff…” To address the problems, conversations focus on increasing police presence and improved communications in order to update and inform the community about crimes. Government officials are also considering increasing the availability of truancy officers and youth workers to engage with troubled youth.
Between the costs associated with criminal activity and the loss of revenue through travel restrictions (due to COVID-19), there is likely to be an estimated loss of up to $15.9 million in visitor spend for the year ending March 2020. When this is combined with forward bookings through the Alice Springs Visitor Information Center, the Northern Territories are facing the lowest tourism numbers that Tourism Central Australia has seen in recent time. This usually popular part of Australia is in the middle of a multi-dimensional storm that threatens the economic base of the sector.
Chile Tourism in Decline
In Chile, the Undersecretary of Crime Prevention, Katherine Martorell, along with Mnica Zalaquett of Tourism, believes that informing visitors of crime issues will help to offset the problem, and assist visitors in understanding how NOT to become a crime victim, and how to avoid theft and robbery. Recommendations to tourists include prescheduling trips and sharing the schedule with others in case of an emergency. Crimes against tourists range from theft to robberies with violence and intimidation especially during the month of January and in the Metropolitan, Antofagasta and Valparaso regions.
In addition to civil unrest, Chile is in the throes of COVID-19 and the US State Department strongly recommends serious consideration before traveling to this destination; COVID-19 has increased the cautionary level from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to a Level 3 Travel Health Notice. As of September 1, 2020, Chile registered 412,145 confirmed COVID-19 cases and is under curfew from 11 PM to 5 AM. Face coverings are mandatory.
To further deter travelers to this destination, borders and airports may be closed, there may be travel stops, stay-at-home orders, business closures and additional emergency conditions. Large-scale demonstrations have been reported in Santiago and other major cities. Many protests have resulted in property damage, looting, arson and transportation disruptions. Local authorities have used water cannons and tear gas to disrupt protests ( https://travel.state.gov ).
Dominican Republic Tourism Paused
In 2019, BC (before COVID-19), the GDP for the Dominican Republic grew an estimated 5.1 percent. As a result of the pandemic, the IMF forecasts from April 14, 2020 the GDP is expected to fall to -1 percent. The US State Department has issued a Level 4 warning for the Dominican Republic which recommends a “Do Not Travel” advisory. COVID-19 (Level 3 Travel Health Notice, CDC), as of August 21, 2020 the DR reported 89,867 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 153 confirmed deaths.
Visitors to the DR are frequently the victims of crimes, including sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies and murder. Weapons are available and when combined with illicit drugs and a weak criminal justice system visitors should proceed with extreme caution ( www.osac.gov ).
The Canadian government warns visitors of “Rogue Lawyers” who position themselves near the tourist police (CESTUR) station and attempt to recruit desperate foreigners who are brought to the station for detention purposes as clients. They try to extort excessive amounts of money from them by offering legal representation or assistance in getting out of jail.
Another warning note from the Canadian government calls attention to credit card and ATM fraud with a recommendation to avoid using card readers with an irregular or unusual feature. Tourists should cover the keypad with one hand when entering their PIN and check carefully for unauthorized transactions on account statements.
Tourists are also warned to never leave food or beverages unattended or in the care of strangers and to be wary of accepting snacks, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances as these items might contain drugs that may put tourists at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Women traveling solo may be the subject to harassment and verbal abuse. Incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners have been reported at beach resorts and some situations have implicated hotel employees. Women are advised to avoid taking public transportation or walking alone in the evening.
The tourism industry leadership in Greece expected that 2020 would be a year for recovery; however, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has destroyed this optimism as the IMF forecasted a 10 percent contraction in GDP and an unemployment rate of 22.3 percent for 2020.
Before COVID-19, the tourism industry contributed 21 percent to the Greek economy. Because the country has been closed to non-EU and EU tourism Greece has experienced massive job losses in the industry. Greece was one of the first countries in Europe to lock down its economy resulting in a relatively small number of reported cases; however, the lock down has virtually stopped the tourism industry. When it reopened its borders to tourism in June, the country experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases, with a very small increase in business.
There is some good news for visitors planning a visit to Greece in 2021; the US Department of State finds that Athens is a “low-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official US government interests;” however, travelers should be aware of street crimes (i.e., pickpocketing, purse snatchings and cell phone thefts) which occur in tourist areas and on the Metro system (rail and bus). Visitors should be on high alert when visiting “Laiki” (farmer’s markets) as the event provides cover for criminal groups. The government also suggests caution at bars and clubs as some serve counterfeit or homemade spirits of unknow potency.
A real threat to visitors in Greece? Traffic fatalities! Greece has one of the highest rates of per-capita traffic deaths in the entire European Union. Serious accidents involve both motorcycles and scooters and the failure to use safety belts and motorcycle helmets – all increase the severity of traffic-related injuries. Most accidents occur in the evening during the summer and holiday season.
Traffic offenses in and around Athens and other large cities include: excessive speed, distracted drivers, non-compliance with right-of-way, indifference to traffic laws, obscured traffic signs, and heavy traffic. Outside urban areas, narrow mountain roads and cold weather can exacerbate treacherous driving conditions and closures. As an alternative to driving, the US State Department recommends using public transportation.
Destinations to Reconsider
Within the next year or two, tourism will once again be added to the “to do” list for worldwide travelers who are very anxious to leave 2020 to the historians. As we put together lists of places to go and things to do for 2021 there are a few destinations that should be seriously reviewed before earning a place on the priority list.
According to Rhiannon Ball (Mapquest.com), the following destinations may require postponement:
- Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Violent organized crime, and drug trafficking makes this destination one of the most violent cities in Mexico. Crime is exacerbated because of police corruption… officers are employed or paid for by the drug cartels allowing many crimes to go unpunished.
- Acapulco, Mexico. Gang violence and drug-related murders make this a dangerous area for travelers. This locale is called Mexico’s “murder capital,” with one of the world’s highest murder rates (142 per 100,000 people). Should you decide to visit, anyway, do not leave the safety of the resort.
- Guatemala City, Guatemala. The nation faces drug-related violence, human and arms trafficking, high murder rates, street robberies, bus holdups and car jackings.
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Considered one of the world’s most violet cities, it has the highest homicide rates in the world (169 per 100,000). The country is also noted for arms trafficking and the use of illegal firearms and tourists encounter criminal activities in the form of muggings and theft.
- Cape Town, South Africa. Poverty and social unrest leads to high violent crimes related to drugs and gangs with an estimated 100,000 people in over 130 different gangs (2018). Ball recommends avoiding dangerous neighborhoods and for women not to travel solo after sunset.
- Another destination to examine for travel is Belize. The country is currently experiencing border and airport closures, travel prohibitions, violent crime (i.e., sexual assault, home invasions, armed robberies and murder). Travelers are advised to exercise caution when traveling to the south side of Belize City as local police lack the resources and training needed to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents (travel.state.gov).
The Mobility Market Outlook reports a decrease of approximately 34.7 percent or an estimated $447.4 billion decline in the global revenue for the travel and tourism industry in 2020. The good news is that this will ultimately change and now is an excellent time to consider 2021 and beyond.
Business and leisure travelers are planning their schedules for 2021 and should contemplate a few guidelines as they move forward:
- Negotiate rates. It is very likely that rates will increase in 2021 so, to keep expenses low, negotiate air and hotel rates NOW.
- Consider all costs. Look beyond the baseline price for air, hotels, and car rentals. While these economy rates may look enticing, do not ignore related costs (i.e., baggage fees, priority boarding, leg space, location) before settling on a price.
- Look at travel expenditures for 2018 and 2019 before determining the amount of time and money available for travel in 2021 and 2022.
Americans plans to travel in 2021 (GetYourGuide.com) with a planned activity of 3.58 trips scheduled. AirportParkingReservations.com research finds that 39 percent of travelers are confident about travel in 2021 with 44 percent claiming they are “somewhat confident.” Traveler Advisors COVID-19 Sentiment Barometer found strong interest in domestic destinations with 42 percent of inquiries focusing on US destinations.
Knowing that there is a better tomorrow, today is a good time to start hitting Google search to find the destinations that are the most appealing (i.e., no/low crime, excellent health care infrastructure, good roads and traffic controls), the dates you want to travel and a viable budget.
VOTE. Before you Get UP and Go
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© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.