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Commentary: Tourisms collapse could worsen the economic crisis we face

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NEW YORK: Last summer around this time, I did an interview with Ulf Lindahl, the chief executive of currency manager AG Bisset.

At the time there was growing concern that the unwinding of the unprecedented corporate debt bubble created over the past decade could cause a sharp economic downturn.

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He put forth a novel idea — that global tourism might be at the centre of the storm when it struck. “Everyone goes on vacation”, he said, “but its also the thing that you can cut back on quickly — unlike your car or your phone.”

If people did stop travelling because of some unforeseen economic shock, he posited, the effects would ricochet through nearly every industry and business, from manufacturing to real estate, restaurants, luxury goods, financial services — you name it.

All this would risk setting off a raft of corporate insolvencies, high unemployment and a sharp downturn.

READ: Commentary: Here's how Singapore can take the reins of opening up travel bubbles safely

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While many might have agreed with his thesis, nobody could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON TOURISM

Now the coronavirus-related collapse in world tourism, which represents more than 10 per cent of global economic output, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, may well trigger the next stage of this crisis, in which we move from a public health emergency and mass unemployment to widespread insolvencies in myriad industries.

Countries such as Italy, Mexico and Spain, which have some of the highest levels of tourism as a proportion of gross domestic product, will be hardest hit by the fact that few people are travelling across borders this summer.

With tourism worth some 13 percent of GDP, Italy is desperate to reopen — but some experts say it may be too early to permit travel between regions and abroad with dozens of new virus cases a day still being reported AFP/Tiziana FABI

However, the US, which has just posted the sharpest post-war contraction in the second quarter, will probably be at the centre of the broader economic storm. Congress cannot agree on the next stimulus package, and viral cases are surging.

Nearly 17 million American jobs are at risk as a result of the tourism downturn alone. Countless companies may be threatened, too. Even with billions of dollars in government aid programmes, US commercial bankruptcies were up 43 per cent in June compared with the same month of 2019.

It is hard to imagine what will happen when the bailouts stop coming.

READ: Commentary: NZ has brought COVID-19 to heel and is thinking hard about opening up travel

READ: Commentary: South Korea will outperform many developed economies in this coronavirus downturn

At the top of this hierarchy of pain are companies such as Boeing and Airbus. With global airline traffic forecast to fall 60 per cent this year, the two major aircraft manufacturers are facing a flood of order cancellations just as trade tensions between Europe and the US are flaring up.

This, of course, adds fuel to wider US-EU trade disputes in areas from aircraft subsidies to digital taxation.

THE SPILLOVER EFFECT

It also puts pressure on manufacturing supply chains around the world. The fact that people are not travelling — not even as far as the office — affects real estate, too. The value of global real estate is greater than that of stocks and bonds combined.

According to Green Street Advisors, the unleveraged value of commercial real estate in the US is down by 11 per cent since the outbreak of the pandemic. Transaction volumes in the second quarter of the year dropped by 68 per cent, the lowest level since the post-2008 financial crisis.

There was distress across every property type, in every part of the country. Given that most Americans hold the majority of their wealth in real estate, that will hurt consumption. It will also hit public sector spending.

FILE PHOTO: Property estate agent sales and letting signs are seen attached to railings in London, Britain, March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Real estate is the largest portion of the tax base in New York and other cities. Neighbourhoods where expensive office towers sit empty have a spooky, deserted atmosphere.

Big tech firms such as Google, among the top real estate spenders in many big US cities, are not sending workers back until next summer. Some surveys estimate that 40 per cent of US tenants are at risk of eviction if stimulus cheques stop. The collapse in the housingRead More – Source

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