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The Economic Fall-out from COVID, Seen in Tourism

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to national economies around the world. Mark Weisbrot (again, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) noted that the deaths due to the economic recession caused by the pandemic far outstrip the deaths caused by the virus itself. This startling statistic highlights how fragile the livelihoods of many around the world are. Indeed, while developed economies have certainly experienced negative repercussions from the recession, these burdens have disproportionately impacted the delicate economic situations of many developing countries. One market that has been particularly affected is tourism.

            Prior to the onset of the pandemic, Chinese tourists accounted for $260 billion in tourism revenue in a year – outstripping the revenue generated by any other nationality. While their tourism had a globe-spanning scope, it was concentrated in Southeast Asia – a region that is feeling the loss of Chinese business significantly. Local markets have all but shut down in absence their foreign (largely Chinese) customers. In Vietnam, over 95% of tourism-focused businesses have been forced to permanently close or at least temporarily suspend their operations, undoubtedly impacting many thousands of workers.

            Much of this loss has been driven, at least in 2021, by China’s “zero-COVID” policy – an arguably unsustainable and far too costly approach to managing the pandemic. The bureaucratic challenges of leaving or entering the country are tremendous, and as discussed above, clearly have repercussions on millions in the surrounding region, to say nothing of the citizens within the country. As the world continues to battle new variants like the Omicron, determining how to balance safety with economic well-being is critical. Because economic security is not just a matter of comfort, as it’s easy to assume in the US – it’s a question of survival.

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