Impact assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak on international tourism

Impact assessment of the COVID-19 outbreak on international tourism

International tourism on track to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022

  • International tourism showed robust performance in January-September 2022, with arrivals reaching 62% of pre-pandemic levels in the first nine months of 2022.
  • An estimated 700 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September, more than double (+133%) the number recorded in the same period of 2021.
  • Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations.
  • Monthly arrivals climbed from -64% in January 2022 (versus 2019) to -27% in September, confirming the rapid and sustained recovery of international travel throughout the year.
  • Tourism performance was particularly strong in the third quarter of 2022 (-26% over 2019) when an estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded around the world, almost 50% of the nine-month total.
  • Europe (+126%) continued to lead the rebound of international tourism through September, reaching 81% of pre-pandemic levels. The Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple (+225%) year-on-year in January-September 2022, climbing to 71% of 2019 levels.
  • Africa (+166%) and the Americas (+106%) reached 63% and 66% of 2019 levels respectively. In Asia and the Pacific (+230%) arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, though remained 83% below 2019 levels.
  • The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France and Germany, where expenditure reached -8% and -12% respectively through September, compared to 2019.
  • International arrivals could reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022, in line with UNWTO’s initial scenarios. Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the recovery pace in the coming months, export revenues from tourism could reach USD 1.2 to 1.3 trillion in 2022, a 60-70% increase over 2021, or 70-80% of the USD 1.8 trillion recorded in 2019.
International tourist arrivals by region


 

International tourist arrivals:

International Tourism Receipts Up 4% in 2021 but Still Well Below 2019 Levels

  • The economic contribution of tourism in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at US$ 1.9 trillion, above the US$1.6 trillion in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of US$ 3.5 trillion. 
  • International tourism receipts grew 4% in 2021 over 2020 in real terms (local currencies, constant prices) but remained 62% below 2019. This percentage is slightly better than that of international arrivals (-71% versus 2019), due to a significant rise in spending per international trip during the pandemic.
  • Total export revenues from international tourism, including passenger transport receipts, reached US$ 728 billion in 2021, also a 4% increase in real terms from 2020, but 61% below 2019, when revenues exceeded US$ 1.7 trillion. This follows a 63% drop in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Consequently, the total loss in tourism revenues exceeds US$ 2 trillion for 2020 and 2021.
  • The pandemic also reduced the proportion of tourism in total exports of goods and services, from 7% of total exports in 2019 (calculated in US dollars), to 3% in both 2020 and 2021. The weight of tourism in services exports also declined, from 28% in 2019 to 13% in 2020 and 12% in 2021.
  • Despite the loss in earnings, average spending per trip (international receipts per arrival) actually increased during the pandemic, from US$ 1,000 in 2019, to US$ 1,300 in 2020 and US$ 1,400 in 2021 (current dollars), partly due to longer periods of stay and the need or willingness by travelers to spend more in their destination. In real terms (local currencies, constant prices) spending per trip grew 31% in 2020 but remained the same in 2021, meaning higher values in current dollars can be attributed to inflation.
World: International tourist arrivals, 2020, 2021 and Scenarios for 2022 (monthly % change over 2019)

UNWTO PANEL OF EXPERTS, HIGHLIGHTS SURVEY SEPTEMBER 2022

  • According to the September 2022 survey, the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts rated the period May-August 2022 with a score of 125 (on a scale of 0 to 200). Prospects for the remainder of the year are cautiously optimistic, with a score of 111, showing a downgrade in confidence levels.
  • The challenging economic environment including high inflation and the spike in oil prices, aggravated by the war in Ukraine, continues to be the main factor weighing on the recovery of tourism, according to experts.
  • Some 61% of experts now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2024 or later while those indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has diminished (27%) compared to the May survey (48%).

Tourism Data

Panel Evaluation and Prospects

What are the main factors weighing on the recovery of international tourism?

When do you expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels in your country?

UNWTO Outlook 2022: Prospects for International Tourism

  • UNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022 (-45% to -30% compared to 2019) depending on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, the evolution of the pandemic and mounting economic challenges.
  • Scenarios by region show Europe (65% to 80% of 2019 levels) and Americas (63% to 76%) recording the best tourism results in 2022. In Africa and the Middle East arrivals could reach about 50% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, while in Asia and the Pacific they would remain at 30% of 2019 levels in the best-case scenario, due to stricter policies and restrictions.
  • Despite the largely positive prospects, a challenging economic environment coupled with the military offensive of the Russian Federation in Ukraine continue to pose a downside risk to the recovery of international tourism. So far, the conflict in Ukraine seems to have had a limited direct impact on overall results, though it is causing an economic impact by exacerbating already high oil prices and overall inflation, and disrupting international supply chains, which results in higher prices in the tourism sector. Inflation and workforce shortages are growing challenges to consolidate the recovery.
  • While international tourism bounces back, domestic tourism continues to drive recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations, particularly those with large domestic markets. According to experts, domestic tourism and travel close to home, as well as open-air activities, nature-based products and rural tourism are among the major travel trends that will continue shaping tourism in 2022.
International tourist arrivals: scenarios

Tourism: One of the Hardest Hit Sectors Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • The pandemic caused an unprecedented disruption to tourism, with a massive fall of international demand amid widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions put in place by countries in order to contain the spread of the virus.
  • This resulted in huge economic and social impacts, placing over 100 million direct tourism jobs at risk, especially in micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) which represent 80% of the sector and employ a high share of women and young people.
  • International travel plunged by 72% in 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, resulting in 1.1 billion fewer international tourists worldwide (overnight visitors), putting the number of travellers back to levels of 30 years ago.
  • International tourism experienced a 5% increase in 2021, 22 million more international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to 2020 (427 million versus 405 million). However, international arrivals were still 71% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
  • International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021. The uplift in demand was driven by increased traveler confidence amid rapid progress on vaccinations and the easing of entry restrictions in many destinations. However, the pace of recovery remained slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence. 
  • Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but still both 63% below pre-pandemic levels.

Unprecedented Impact from COVID-19

 

2019*

2020

2021**

International tourist arrivals
(overnight visitors)

1.5 billion

406 million

429 million

Export revenues from international tourism
(international tourism receipts + passenger transport)

USD 1.7 trillion

USD 651 billion

USD 728 billion

Tourism Direct Gross Domestic Product (TDGDP)

USD 3.5 trillion

USD 1.7 trillion

USD 2.2 trillion

Source: UNWTO, * Pre-pandemic year, ** Preliminary results

International tourist arrivals

2020
-72% vs 2019
-1.1 billion

 

2021
-71% vs 2019
-1 billion

+6% vs 2020
+24 million

 

Export revenues from international tourism

2020 -US$ 1.1 trillion

2021 -US$ 1.0 trillion

Tourism Direct GDP

2020 -US$ 1.8 trillion

2021 -US$ 1.4 trillion

  • The coronavirus pandemic caused a 72% decline in international tourist arrivals in 2020 and 71% in 2021, compared to 2019. This represents a loss of 2.1 billion international arrivals in both years combined.
  • As a result, export revenues from international tourism plunged 63% in 2020 and 61% in 2021 (real terms) which amounts to a combined loss of US$ 2.1 trillion in this two-year period.

Changes in Consumer Trends

Short-lived trends or here to stay?

Closer

Domestic tourism has shown positive signs in many markets since people
tend to travel closer. Travelers go for ‘staycations’ or vacations close to home.

More responsible

Sustainability, authenticity and localhood: travelers believe in the importance of creating a positive impact on local communities, increasingly searching for authenticity.

Get away

Nature, Rural Tourism and Road Trips have emerged as popular travel choices due to travel limitations and the quest for open-air experiences.

Longer stays & higher spending

2021 has seen a significant increase in spending per trip and longer stays

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