Tourism arrival numbers show just how devastating the pandemic was for the sector. But they don’t tell the whole story. Within the space of two years since March 2020, the global tourism sector was first brought to a standstill before being reimagined and restarted on the back of a coordinated effort spearheaded by UNWTO.
In 2019, global international tourist arrivals reached 1.5 billion a year on the back of a decade of uninterrupted growth. Arrivals rose by an average of 5% per year between 2009 and 2019, or by an aggregate level of as much as 63%.
Hand-in-hand with such growth, tourism became one of the world’s major socio-economic sectors. In 2019 export revenues from tourism amounted to USD 1.7 trillion, equivalent to 28% of global trade in services and 7% of overall exports of goods and services. The direct economic contribution of tourism amounted to USD 3.5 trillion in 2019 or 4% of global GDP.
Tourism had also become established as a key pillar of not just economic growth but of social opportunity. Guided by UNWTO, tourism had grown to be an essential pillar of sustainable development, recognized for its unique ability to generate opportunity for all and help provide solutions to some of the biggest problems.
Tourism was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, international travel came to a near-complete standstill, grounding tourists and cutting off the lifeline the sector offers to developing nations as well as to communities, businesses and workers everywhere.
Reflecting the immediate impacts of the crisis, UNWTO’s efforts were focused on the following priorities:
Creating a holistic and relevant coordination mechanism that would ensure an effective understanding of the crisis and then effective action plans, namely through supporting global efforts in curbing the spread of the pandemic while also supporting the millions of livelihoods dependent on tourism.
Providing guidance to countries on policy measures to sustain jobs and mitigate the immediate impact of the crisis. UNWTO provided a set of 23 actionable recommendations and called for financial and political support for recovery measures targeting the tourism sector. UNWTO also called for recovery measures and incentives to be planned and implemented in coordination with international development and donor organizations; and tourism support to be included in the wider recovery plans and actions of affected economies.
Providing trusted data and guidance: To assess the true impact of the crisis through reliable and up to date intelligence. For both governments and businesses, UNWTO became the go-to source of information, informing policy and guiding decisions.
Global Destinations with travel restrictionsin place in April 2022
Tourism jobs lost 2020
accumulated direct tourism GPD loss 2020-2021
pre-pandemic levels (January-July 2022)
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. UNWTO’s response was swift and decisive. The first meeting of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee in April brought the broad and diverse sector around a single table. Restoring consumer confidence, advancing safe mobility and establishing safety at destinations the Committee’s most immediate priorities.
Members were drawn from all world regions, including government Ministers, leaders and key representatives of International Organizations and UN agencies and from tourism’s private sector. Such high-level support, both within national governments and international organizations, has been vital moving forwards. The Committee’s cross-cutting composition reflects not only UNWTO’s unique influence and status as a part of the United Nations but also tourism’s importance for every global region and the sector’s cross-cutting nature.
"The Global crisis committee will adopt a recovery plan and find solutions to the challenge. United we can create a concrete plan and execute it with our member states. The Tourism Community will need strong and right communication to accelerate tourism recovery and we hope partners like CNN will be there to support."
Against the backdrop of unprecedented crisis, restarting tourism and restoring the lifeline the sector offers for millions of people was of urgent importance. But UNWTO recognized that short-term recovery must not come at the expense of long-term goals to build a fairer sector. Furthermore, the pause in travel represented a chance to restart better and kickstart the emergence of a more ethical type of tourism.
While both governments and UNWTO prioritized safety and public health, the attention of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics (WCTE) was drawn on some of the measures planned or already in place such as travel restrictions, quarantine conditions, COVID-free labels, and immunity passports or certificates.
The WCTE recognized that, while such measures may be based on public health concerns, they nevertheless should abide by ethical principles, and in particular those that appear in the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and the UNWTO Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, namely:
As the sector faced up to an unprecedented challenge the WCTE stressed the need for tourism workers be guaranteed a safe and healthy workplace in line with the specific recommendations issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for a safe return to work.
The Committee analyzed the steps being taken by businesses and trade associations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Studying the actions taken by Private Sector Commitment to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism in 25 countries, the research revealed that, in spite of staff furloughs, employers across the sector stepped up their support for workers and for communities.
Recognizing the critical role of the media in the promotion of sustainable tourism and the restart of travel in a safe manner, UNWTO renewed and established new strategic partnerships to drive the tourism restart agenda.
Any crisis puts relationships to the test and the pandemic was no different. CNN International has been a long-time ally of UNWTO and COVID-19 brought the two organizations even closer. After partnering already in May 2020 in asking the world to be patient, responsible and to #Travel Tomorrow, UNWTO and CNN teamed up again to celebrate the transformative power being unleashed as the restart of tourism got underway. Again broadcasted on CNN International and reaching hundreds of millions of viewers, the #Restart Tourism campaign harnessed the influence and credibility of CNN and further established UNWTO as the global voice of the sector.
Tourism’s challenges did not stop its growing recognition across the media landscape. In May 2021, UNWTO signed an agreement with another international broadcaster Euronews again with the aim of raising public awareness around the heightened economic, development, social and cultural relevance of the sector.
‘’We are excited to work with UNWTO to offer our viewers a closer relationship with this important sector and to offer our partners in tourism a trusted platform to share inspirational stories with the world.” Euronews’ CEO Michael Peters.
The fact that Euronews launched its travel vertical at the hight of the pandemic, on October 2020, is proof of tourism’s heightened recognition and its importance to recovery and economic development. Since then, UNWTO has been a key source of tourism intelligence to support Euronews’ editorial commitment to the sector.
At the same time, UNWTO continued its partnership drive and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nigeria’s Channels TV to educate and inform its millions of viewers across the English-speaking nations of Africa about the importance of tourism.
“This is like the icing on the cake for us. Considering the fact that we have to reset the button for tourism around the world, that global tourism has taken a hit, you can rest assured that you have a very good partner in Channels TV.” Group Chairman of Channels TV John Momoh.
The scale of the challenge confronting the tourism sector has at every stage required agile leadership to guide recovery. UNWTO works closely with its Members to deliver just this, in the shape of policy recommendations and technical assistance, addressing both short-term crisis management and longer-term recovery, growth and transformation.
UNWTO’s Recommendations for Recovery highlight the steps for governments and other authorities to take to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the sector and to lay the foundations for recovery. These were complemented by engaging with innovators across the world through a series of innovation challenges and competitions aimed at identifying new ideas to help tourism return to sustainable growth. The guide provides 23 actionable recommendations, divided into three key areas: Managing the Crisis and Mitigating the Impact, Providing guidance to countries on policy measures and accelerating recovery measures; and Preparing for Tomorrow. Alongside this, the Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package offers a set of guidelines to help the tourism sector emerge stronger and more sustainably from the crisis.
Tourism is the ultimate person-to-person sector. From the start of the pandemic, UNWTO stressed the importance of safeguarding livelihoods and small businesses, while also looking to the future and seizing the opportunity to step up efforts to allow even more people to benefit, through jobs, education or professional development.
UNWTO prioritises education, training, and research. Member States need people with the skills and experience to meet current and future market demands and, ultimately, enhances the competitiveness and sustainability of tourism destinations. Tourism education programmes are now reaching unprecedented numbers of people. In the 18 months from March 2020, they welcomed more than 20,000 students from 100 countries. Through partnerships with the world’s top five institutions in tourism and hospitality (IE University, Les Roches, Glion Institute of Higher Education, École Ducasse and the Swiss Education Group) UNWTO now offers 19 online courses in Spanish, English and Arabic - a true “online university of universities”.
IE University and Sommet Education have also partnered with UNWTO to accelerate the Tourism Online Academy, incorporating courses on various areas of tourism management and hospitality. By the end of 2022, they will have attracted around 10,000 registered users. Throughout 2021 and 2022, even more prestigious universities from around the world have joined up to offer their expertise and be part of the sector’s future.
Meanwhile, UNWTO and Google have partnered for an online Acceleration Program for UNWTO Member States' tourism ministers, top travel associations and tourism boards. The first sessions were hosted by South Africa and then by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with training designed to help destinations attract visitors and better manage their tourism sectors as well as benefitting from better insights into data collection, analysis and management.
To strengthen and develop the capacities and competencies of tourism professionals in their fields, as well as to share knowledge and tools in a practical and interactive mode, UNWTO rolled out its Executive Education Initiatives facilitated by international experts, partner organizations, UNWTO.TedQual certified Institutions, and co-organised with Tourism National Administrations and Organizations from UNWTO Member States.
Then, to support jobs, UNWTO launched the Jobs Factory, powered by Hosco, the global hospitality network. This innovative platform is designed to connect talent with employers across the sector. The platform also helps tourism businesses and organizations to find and recruit the best talent.
Data is an essential resource for the measurement and management of any economic activity. And tourism is no exception. UNWTO has further established itself as the UN’s provider of official tourism data, trusted by international organizations, governments and businesses everywhere.
From the outbreak of the pandemic, UNWTO scaled up its monitoring of the sector, focusing on the impact on international tourism arrivals and receipts, increasing the frequency of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, launching the UNWTO Tourism Data Dashboard, and creating the COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions Reports. These reports provide data insights and analysis on key indicators for inbound and outbound tourism at the global, regional, and national levels.
UNWTO also launched the Online Policy Tracker, a public dashboard covering 220 countries and territories as well as more than 30 international and regional institutions. And as growing numbers of countries around the world started adapting to the new reality and easing restrictions on travel, UNWTO’s Tourism Recovery Tracker was a further innovation to meet the evolving situation and revive global tourism. The most comprehensive tourism dashboard to date, the Tracker is the result of a partnership between international organizations and the private sector. Available for free, it covers key tourism performance indicators by month, regions and subregions allowing for a real time comparison of the sector’s recovery across different regions and industries.
As travellers and the tourism sector found themselves confronted with ever changing health and country requirements of entry, the strategic partnership between UNWTO and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) produced a Destination Tracker - a free online tool for governments to provide information on requirements for travel and the measures in place at the destination.
This same data will then inform and guide tourism’s restart and transformation over the years ahead while also helping to build greater resilience across the sector. For example, UNWTO’s work with the global telecommunications provider Telefonica of Spain is making clear the potential of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence across the tourism sector to help destinations better understand tourist behaviour, allowing them to market their products more effectively. At the same time, UNWTO’s insights help inform policy and decision making for both governments and businesses.
The end of the peak season for tourism in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as the easing of restrictions in other global regions, provided an opportunity to take stock of the sector’s return.
International arrivals were up by 172% for the period January-July 2022 when compared to 2021, with positive numbers from every global region:
Used properly, data can guide effective decision making, both for short-term recovery and longer-term strategic growth. Thanks to UNWTO’s insights, even more Member States, businesses and destinations have the tools they need to develop and deliver effective tourism policy. Through joint initiatives at both national and regional levels, and with both public and private sector partners, UNWTO is ensuring that the transformation of tourism is underpinned by trusted data and guided by expert insights.
To this end, UNWTO and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched a joint report on the use of big data for better tourism planning and management. The report addresses some of the key challenges standing in the way of fully realizing the potential of big data and digitalization for better tourism policy. These include ongoing concerns over privacy, skills gaps, data reliability, inadequate governance and infrastructure, the digital divide, accessibility barriers. As of September 2022, over 30 countries in Europe have signed up to share knowledge and best practices with the objective of enhancing tourism competitiveness and supporting the recovery of the sector across the region.
The DataLab network, led by UNWTO and the European Travel Commission (ETC) provides a unique platform for sharing best practices, including know-how on data management and analytics. Users are able to share knowledge on the identification of relevant data sources, the use of big data, and the implementation of market intelligence systems. Europe’s National Tourism Organizations (NTOs), National Tourism Administrations (NTAs) and other relevant partners are all eligible to be part of the DataLab, and representatives from more than 30 countries signed up to be part of the first stage.
Finally, UNWTO’s partnership with leading digital travel platform Expedia has seen both parties share data on tourism trends and developments, both at the global and the local scale. This helped inform decision-making, producing data-based policies aimed a tourism’s sustainable recovery and future development.