After two pandemic years, a summer travel bounce — and chaos

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JERUSALEM (AP) — At a tourism conference in Phuket last month, Thailand’s prime minister looked out at attendees and posed a question with a predictable answer.

“Are you ready?” Prayuth Chan-ocha asked, dramatically removing his mask and launching what’s hoped to be the country’s economic reset after more than two years of coronavirus-driven restrictions. When the crowd yelled its answer — yes, according to local media — it might have been speaking for the entire pandemic-battered world.

But a full recovery could take as long as the catastrophe itself, according to projections and interviews by The Associated Press in 11 countries in June. They suggest that the hoped-for rebound is less like a definitive bounce — and more like a bumpy path out of a deep and dark cave.

Some locales, such as the French Riviera and the American Midwest, are contributing to the climb more than others — like shuttered, “zero-COVID” China, which before the pandemic was the world’s leading source of tourists and their spending.

The human drive to bust out and explore is helping fuel the ascent, packing flights and museums despite rising coronavirus infections and inflation. But economic urgency is the real driver for an industry worth $3.5 trillion in 2019 that the United Nations estimates lost about that much during the pandemic. By some estimates, tourism provides work for one in 10 people on Earth.

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