While travelling individually in China during the period of increasing numbers of deaths from AIDS in Western countries in the 1990s, I repeatedly had the following experience: Foreigners did not need to overcome anymore the hurdle of providing rationing coupons (piaos) for grain when eating in small restaurants like in the 1980s. However, in many cases lao wais (honored foreigners) would be served in such eateries not with well-worn chopsticks like all other customers, but were provided with single-use chopsticks in paper packaging. When questioned about the reason, the waiter would explain that this was a special service for the esteemed guests so that they did not have to worry about catching some disease from using the commonly shared chopsticks. After the meal, our chopsticks would be pushed right away in the oven to be burned.
It took some time before I understood that actually the intention of this „special service“ was not to protect us, but that our Chinese hosts were afraid that they could catch AIDS from the foreigners.
Looking at SARS-CoV-2, the situation has developed in a similar way. Whereas the person in the White House still insists that the „Chinese virus“ is to blame and Overseas Chinese living in the USA, fearing racial attacks, are stocking up on small firearms and ammunition, it is now China fearing the virus entering the country from outside. Italy has overtaken China with regards to the total number of CoViD-19 deaths and the USA is reporting a higher number of new cases per day than ever before. Almost all new cases reported in China since the middle of March are originating outside of the country.
Globally we are all trained at the moment not to come in close contact with any stranger and to perceive everybody as a potentially dangerous source of infection. This is true for our neighbours and colleagues, but even more so for foreigners. Being a Chinese or an Italian means being treated at the reinstalled border controls like a leper was treated at the city gate in medieval times.
Humankind will survive the Coronavirus crisis (if only to find that the bigger problem of climate change has not disappeared in the meantime), and the COTRI team most sincerely hopes that all readers of these words and the companies they are connected with will survive the crisis. What seems to become more and more clear is that TRUST will be one of the main elements we will have to rebuild if we want to get tourism back to the level of 2019 and beyond. In fact, trust in your neighbour as well as in strangers has been under attack before Corona, with populist politicians trying to divide societies within a country and to divide people into different parts of the world based on their passport, skin pigmentation, beliefs, etc.
„They are Us“the answer of Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand a year ago at Christchurch to the attacks on Muslims in that city, will have to be the spirit for the global tourism industry – in supporting each other in the short run, but more importantly in rebuilding trust between people, so that they can start again to use tourism as a joyful way to meet new people and to make new friends across borders.
Best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the COTRI WEEKLY team!
PS.: COTRI is moving to a new office within Hamburg as of April 1st. Therefore there will be no COTRI WEEKLY next week.