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International Tourism Back to 60% of Pre-Pandemic Levels in January-July 2022

International Tourism Back to 60% of Pre-Pandemic Levels in January-July 2022

International tourism continued to show strong signs of recovery, with arrivals reaching 57% of pre-pandemic levels in the first seven months of 2022.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals almost tripled in January to July 2022 (+172%) compared to the same period of 2021. This means the sector recovered almost 60% of pre-pandemic levels. The steady recovery reflects strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date (86 countries had no COVID-19 related restrictions as of 19 September 2022).

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism continues to recover steadily, yet several challenges remain, from geopolitical to economic. The sector is bringing back hope and opportunity for people everywhere. Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet.”

Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet

An estimated 474 million tourists travelled internationally over the period, compared to the 175 million in the same months of 2021. An estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, over twice the numbers seen in the same two months last year. These months represent 44% of the total arrivals recorded in the first seven months of 2022. Europe welcomed 309 million of these arrivals, accounting for 65% of the total. 

International Tourist Arrivals

Europe and the Middle East Lead Recovery

Europe and the Middle East showed the fastest recovery in January-July 2022, with arrivals reaching 74% and 76% of 2019 levels respectively. Europe welcomed almost three times as many international arrivals as in the first seven months of 2021 (+190%), with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. The region saw particularly robust performance in June (-21% over 2019) and July (-16%), reflecting a busy summer period. Arrivals climbed to about 85% of 2019 levels in July. The lifting of travel restrictions in a large number of destinations also fuelled these results (44 countries in Europe had no COVID-19 related restrictions as of 19 September 2022).

The Middle East saw international arrivals grow almost four times year-on-year in January-July 2022 (+287%). Arrivals exceeded pre-pandemic levels in July (+3%), boosted by the extraordinary results posted by Saudi Arabia (+121%) following the Hajj pilgrimage. 

The Americas (+103%) and Africa (+171%) also recorded strong growth in January-July 2022 compared to 2021, reaching 65% and 60% of 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific (+165%) saw arrivals more than double in the first seven months of 2022, though they remained 86% below 2019 levels, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel.

Subregions and destinations

Several subregions reached 70% to 85% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-July 2022. Southern Mediterranean Europe (-15% over 2019), the Caribbean (-18%) and Central America (-20%) showed the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. Western Europe (-26%) and Northern Europe (-27%) also posted strong results. In July arrivals came close to pre-pandemic levels in the Caribbean (-5%), Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-6%) and Central America (-8%).

Among destinations reporting data on international arrivals in the first five to seven months of 2022, those exceeding pre-pandemic levels were: the US Virgin Islands (+32% over 2019), Albania (+19%), Saint Maarten (+15%), Ethiopia and Honduras (both +13%), Andorra (+10%), Puerto Rico (+7%), United Arab Emirates and Dominican Republic (both +3%), San Marino and El Salvador (both +1%) and Curaçao (0%).

Among destinations reporting data on international tourism receipts in the first five to seven months of 2022, Serbia (+73%), Sudan (+64%), Romania (+43%), Albania (+32%), North Macedonia (+24%), Pakistan (+18%), Türkiye, Bangladesh and Latvia (all +12%), Mexico and Portugal (both +8%), Kenya (+5%) and Colombia (+2%) all exceeded pre-pandemic levels in January-July 2022.

Tourism spending rises but challenges grow

The ongoing recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets. Expenditure from France climbed to -12% in January-July 2022 compared to 2019 while spending from Germany rose to -14%. International tourism spending stood at -23% in Italy and -26% in the United States.

Robust performance was also recorded in international passenger air traffic, with a 234% increase in January-July 2022 (45% below 2019 levels) and a recovery of some 70% of pre-pandemic traffic levels in July, according to IATA.

Stronger-than-expected demand has also created important operational and workforce challenges in tourism companies and infrastructure, particularly airports. Additionally, the economic situation, exacerbated by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, represents a major downside risk. The combination of increasing interest rates in all major economies, rising energy and food prices and the growing prospects of a global recession as indicated by the World Bank, are major threats to the recovery of international tourism through the remainder of 2022 and 2023. The potential slowdown can be seen in the latest UNWTO Confidence Index, which reflects a more cautious outlook, as well as in booking trends which are showings signs of slower growth.

Tourism Experts Cautiously Confident

On a scale of 0 to 200, the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts rated the period May-August 2022 with a score of 125, matching the bullish expectations expressed by the Panel in the May survey for the same 4-month period (124).

Prospects for the remainder of the year are cautiously optimistic. Although above-average performance is expected, tourism experts rated the period September-December 2022 with a score of 111, below the 125 score of the previous four months, showing a downgrade in confidence levels. Almost half of experts (47%) see positive prospects for the period September-December 2022, while 24% expect no particular change and 28% consider it could be worse.  Experts also seem confident about 2023, as 65% see better tourism performance than in 2022.

The uncertain economic environment seems to have nonetheless reversed prospects for a return to pre-pandemic levels in the near term. 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%). According to experts, the economic environment continues to be the main factor weighing on the recovery of international tourism. Rising inflation and the spike in oil prices results in higher transport and accommodation costs, while putting consumer purchasing power and savings under pressure.

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International Tourism Consolidates Strong Recovery Amidst Growing Challenges

International Tourism Consolidates Strong Recovery Amidst Growing Challenges

International tourism continues to show signs of a strong and steady recovery from the impact of the pandemic despite significant mounting economic and geopolitical challenges.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded. This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

“The recovery of tourism has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. At the same time, he also advises caution in view of the “economic headwinds and geopolitical challenges which could impact the sector in the remainder of 2022 and beyond”.

Europe and Americas lead recovery

Europe welcomed more than four times as many international arrivals as in the first five months of 2021 (+350%), boosted by strong intra-regional demand and the removal of all travel restrictions in a growing number of countries. The region saw particularly robust performance in April (+458%), reflecting a busy Easter period. In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled (+112%). However, the strong rebound is measured against weak results in 2021 and arrivals remain overall 36% and 40% below 2019 levels in both regions, respectively.

The recovery of tourism has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way

The same pattern is seen across other regions. The strong growth in the Middle East (+157%) and Africa (+156%) remained 54% and 50% below 2019 levels respectively, and Asia and the Pacific almost doubled arrivals (+94%), though numbers were 90% below 2019, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel. Here, the recent easing of restrictions can be seen in improved results for April and May.

Looking at subregions, several have recovered between 70% and 80% of their pre-pandemic levels, led by the Caribbean and Central America, followed by Southern Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe. It is noteworthy that some destinations surpassed 2019 levels, including US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, the Republic of Moldova, Albania, Honduras and Puerto Rico.

International Tourist Arrivals

Tourism spending also rising

Rising tourism spending out of the major source markets is consistent with the observed recovery. International expenditure by tourists from France, Germany, Italy and the United States is now at 70% to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, while spending from India, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has already exceeded 2019 levels.

In terms of international tourism receipts earned in destinations, a growing number of countries - the Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Seychelles, Romania, North Macedonia, Saint Lucia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Pakistan, Sudan, Türkiye, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Mexico, Croatia and Portugal – have fully recovered their pre-pandemic levels.

Defying mounting challenges

Strong demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer season is expected to consolidate these positive results, particularly as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions. As of 22 July, 62 destinations (of which 39 in Europe) had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place and an increasing number of destinations in Asia have started to ease theirs.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the overall reduction in international air capacity in 2022 will be limited to 20% to 25% of seats offered by airlines as compared to 2019. Such resilience is also reflected in hotel occupancy rates. Based on data from the industry benchmarking firm STR, global occupancy rates climbed to 66% in June 2022, from 43% in January.  

However, stronger than expected demand has created significant operational and workforce challenges, while the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, as well as fears of an economic slowdown continue to pose a risk to recovery. The International Monetary Fund points to a global economic slowdown from 6.1% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022 and then to 2.9% in 2023. At the same time, UNWTO continues to work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to monitor the pandemic as well as emerging public health emergencies and their potential impact on travel.

Regional Scenarios for 2022

UNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Results depend on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, ongoing inflation, including high energy prices, and overall economic conditions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, as well as the health situation related to the pandemic. More recent challenges such as staff shortages, severe airport congestion and flight delays and cancellations could also impact international tourism numbers.

Scenarios by region show Europe and Americas recording the best tourism results in 2022, while Asia and the Pacific is expected to lag behind due to more restrictive travel policies. International tourist arrivals in Europe could climb to 65% or 80% of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on various conditions, while in the Americas they could reach 63% to 76% of those levels.

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.

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Tourism Recovery Gains Momentum as Restrictions Ease and Confidence Returns

Tourism Recovery Gains Momentum as Restrictions Ease and Confidence Returns

Tourism continues to recover at a strong pace. Globally, destinations welcomed almost three times as many international arrivals in the first quarter of 2022 as in the same period of 2021, with Europe leading the sector’s rebound.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a 182% year-on-year increase in January-March 2022, with destinations worldwide welcoming an estimated 117 million international arrivals compared to 41 million in Q1 2021. Of the extra 76 million international arrivals for the first three months, about 47 million were recorded in March, showing that the recovery is gathering pace.

Europe and Americas lead the recovery

UNWTO data shows that during the first quarter of 2022, Europe welcomed almost four times as many international arrivals (+280%) as in Q1 of 2021, with results driven by strong intra-regional demand. In the Americas arrivals more than doubled (+117%) in the same three months. However, arrivals in Europe and the Americas were still 43% and 46% below 2019 levels respectively.

The Middle East (+132%) and Africa (+96%) also saw strong growth in Q1 2022 compared to 2021, but arrivals remained 59% and 61% below 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific recorded a 64% increase over 2021 but again, levels were 93% below 2019 numbers as several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.

International tourist arrivals (% change over 2019)

By subregion, the Caribbean and Southern Mediterranean Europe continue to show the fastest rates of recovery. In both, arrivals recovered to nearly 75% of 2019 levels, with some destinations reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Destinations opening up

Although international tourism remains 61% below 2019 levels, the gradual recovery is expected to continue throughout 2022, as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions and pent-up demand is unleashed. As of 2 June, 45 destinations (of which 31 are in Europe) had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place. In Asia, an increasing number of destinations have started to ease those restrictions.

Evaluation and Prospects of tourism performance by the UNWTO Panel of Experts

Despite these positive prospects, a challenging economic environment coupled with the military offensive of the Russian Federation in Ukraine pose a downside risk to the ongoing recovery of international tourism.  The Russian offensive on Ukraine seems to have had a limited direct impact on overall results so far, although it is disrupting travel in Eastern Europe. However, the conflict is having major economic repercussions globally, exacerbating already high oil prices and overall inflation and disrupting international supply chains, which results in higher transport and accommodation costs for the tourism sector.

Export revenues to recover faster as spending rises

The latest issue of the UNWTO Tourism Barometer also shows that US$ 1 trillion were lost in export revenues from international tourism in 2021, adding to the $1 trillion lost in the first year of the pandemic. Total export revenues from tourism (including passenger transport receipts) reached an estimated US$ 713 billion in 2021, a 4% increase in real terms from 2020 but still 61% below 2019 levels. International tourism receipts reached US$ 602 billion, also 4% higher in real terms than in 2020. Europe and the Middle East recorded the best results, with earnings climbing to about 50% of pre-pandemic levels in both regions.

However, the amount being spent per trip is on the rise - from an average US$ 1,000 in 2019 to US$ 1,400 in 2021.

Stronger than expected recovery ahead

The latest UNWTO Confidence Index showed a marked uptick. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the index returned to levels of 2019, reflecting rising optimism among tourism experts worldwide, building on strong pent-up demand, in particular intra-European travel and US travel to Europe.  

According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, an overwhelming majority of tourism professionals (83%) see better prospects for 2022 compared to 2021, as long as the virus is contained and destinations continue to ease or lift travel restrictions. However, the ongoing closure of some major outbound markets, mostly in Asia and the Pacific, as well as the uncertainty derived from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, could delay the effective recovery of international tourism.

A higher number of experts (48%) now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2023 (from 32% in the January survey), while the percentage indicating this could happen in 2024 or later (44%) has diminished compared to the January survey (64%). Meanwhile by end April, international air capacity across the Americas, Africa, Europe, North Atlantic and the Middle East has reached or is close to 80% of pre-crisis levels and demand is following.

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

UNWTO has revised its outlook for 2022 due to stronger-than-expected results in the first quarter of 2022, a significant increase in flight reservations, and prospects from the UNWTO Confidence Index. International tourist arrivals are now expected to reach 55% to 70% of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on several circumstances including the rate at which destinations continue to lift travel restrictions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, possible new outbreaks of coronavirus and global economic conditions, particularly inflation and energy prices.

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Tourism Enjoys Strong Start to 2022 while Facing New Uncertainties

Tourism Enjoys Strong Start to 2022 while Facing New Uncertainties

International tourism continued its recovery in January 2022, with a much better performance compared to the weak start to 2021. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine adds pressure to existing economic uncertainties, coupled with many Covid-related travel restrictions still in place. Overall confidence could be affected and hamper the recovery of tourism.

Based on the latest available data, global international tourist arrivals more than doubled (+130%) in January 2022 compared to 2021 - the 18 million more visitors recorded worldwide in the first month of this year equals the total increase for the whole of 2021.

While these figures confirm the positive trend already underway last year, the pace of recovery in January was impacted by the emergences of the Omicron variant and the re-introduction of travel restrictions in several destinations. Following the 71% decline of 2021, international arrivals in January 2022 remained 67% below pre-pandemic levels.

Europe and Americas perform strongest

All regions enjoyed a significant rebound in January 2022, though from low levels recorded at the start of 2021. Europe (+199%) and the Americas (+97%) continued to post the strongest results, with international arrivals still around half pre-pandemic levels (-53% and -52%, respectively).

The Middle East (+89%) and Africa (+51%) also saw growth in January 2022 over 2021, but these regions saw a drop of 63% and 69% respectively compared to 2019. While Asia and the Pacific recorded a 44% year-on-year increase, several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel resulting in the largest decrease in international arrivals over 2019 (-93%).

By subregions, the best results were recorded by Western Europe, registering four times more arrivals in January 2022 than in 2021, but 58% less than in 2019. Additionally, the Caribbean (-38%) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-41%) have shown the fastest rates of recovery towards 2019 levels. Indeed, several islands in the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific, together with some small European and Central American destinations recorded the best results compared to 2019: Seychelles (-27%), Bulgaria and Curaçao (both -20%), El Salvador (-19%), Serbia and Maldives (both -13%), Dominican Republic (-11%), Albania (-7%) and Andorra (-3%). Bosnia and Herzegovina (+2%) even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Among major destinations Turkey and Mexico saw declines of 16% and 24% respectively as compared to 2019.

Prospects for recovery

After the unprecedented drop of 2020 and 2021, international tourism is expected to continue its gradual recovery in 2022. As of 24 March, 12 destinations had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place and an increasing number of destinations were easing or lifting travel restrictions, which contributes to unleashing pent-up demand.

The war in Ukraine poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in global travel. The US and the Asian source markets, which have started to open up, could be particularly impacted especially regarding travel to Europe, as these markets are historically more risk averse.

The shutdown of Ukrainian and Russian airspace, as well as the ban on Russian carriers by many European countries is affecting intra-European travel. It is also causing detours in long-haul flights between Europe and East Asia, which translates into longer flights and higher costs. Russia and Ukraine accounted for a combined 3% of global spending on international tourism in 2020 and at least US$ 14 billion in global tourism receipts could be lost if the conflict is prolonged. The importance of both markets is significant for neighbouring countries, but also for European sun and sea destinations. The Russian market also gained significant weight during the pandemic for long haul destinations such as Maldives, Seychelles or Sri Lanka. As destinations Russia and Ukraine accounted for 4% of all international arrivals in Europe but only 1% of Europe’s international tourism receipts in 2020.

Economic uncertainty and pressures

Even though it is too early to assess the impact, air travel searches and bookings across various channels showed a slowdown the week after the invasion but started to rebound in early March.

It is certain that the offensive will add further pressure to already challenging economic conditions, undermining consumer confidence and raising investment uncertainty. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates global economic growth could be more than 1% lower this year than previously projected, while inflation, already high at the start of the year, could be at least a further 2.5% higher. The recent spike in oil prices (Brent reached its highest levels in 10 years), and rising inflation are making accommodation and transport services more expensive, adding extra pressure on businesses, consumer purchasing power and savings, UNWTO notes.

This forecast is in line with the analysis on the potential consequences of the conflict on global economic recovery and growth by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which has also downgraded its projection for world economic growth in 2022 from 3.6% to 2.6% and warned that developing countries will be most vulnerable to the slowdown.

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Tourism Grows 4% in 2021 but Remains Far Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Tourism Grows 4% in 2021 but Remains Far Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

  • UNWTO reports 4% rise in international tourist arrivals in 2021
  • However, 2021 was another challenging year: arrivals still 72% down on pre-pandemic levels
  • Recovery needs stronger coordination and increased vaccination rates

Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021, compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million). However, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to preliminary estimates by UNWTO. This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, when international arrivals decreased by 73%.

The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols, have all helped release pent up demand. International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62% in both the third and fourth quarters compared to  pre-pandemic levels. According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen.

Slow and uneven recovery

The pace of recovery remains 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.

By subregion, the Caribbean saw the best performance (+63% above 2020, though 37% below 2019), with some destinations coming close to, or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%) also enjoyed a significant rebound but remain 54% and 56% down on 2019 levels respectively. North America (+17%) and Central Eastern Europe (+18%) also climbed above 2020 levels. 

Meanwhile, Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74% below 2019. In the Middle East arrivals declined 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019. In Asia and the Pacific arrivals were still 65% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.  

Increased tourism spending

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. Export revenues from international tourism could exceed US$700 billion in 2021, a small improvement over 2020 due to higher spending per trip, but less than half the US$1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.

Average receipts per arrival are estimated to reach US$1,500 in 2021, up from US$1,300 in 2020. This is due to large pent-up savings and longer lengths of stay, as well as higher transport and accommodation prices. France and Belgium reported comparatively smaller declines in tourism expenditure with -37% and -28%, respectively over 2019. Saudi Arabia (-27%) and Qatar (-2%) also posted somewhat better results in 2021.

Outlook for 2022

According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals (61%) see better prospects for 2022. While 58% expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter, 42% point to a potential rebound only in 2023. A majority of experts (64%) now expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45% in the September survey.

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

The UNWTO Confidence Index shows a slight decline in January-April 2022. A rapid and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more coordination and clearer information on travel protocols, are the main factors identified by experts for the effective recovery of international tourism. UNWTO scenarios indicate that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30% to 78% in 2022 compared to 2021. However, this would still be 50% to 63% below pre-pandemic levels.

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant are set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions for certain markets. At the same time, the vaccination roll-out remains uneven and many destinations still have their borders completely closed, mostly in Asia and the Pacific. A challenging economic environment could put additional pressure on the effective recovery of international tourism, with the surge in oil prices, increase in inflation, potential rise in interest rates, high debt volumes and the continued disruption in supply chains. However, the ongoing tourism recovery in many markets, mostly in Europe and the Americas, coupled with the widespread vaccination rollout and a major coordinated lifting of travel restrictions, could help to restore consumer confidence and accelerate the recovery of international tourism in 2022.  

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.

Note: The above is based on available data gathered by UNWTO at the time of publication.

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Global Tourism Sees Upturn in Q3 but Recovery Remains Fragile

Global Tourism Sees Upturn in Q3 but Recovery Remains Fragile

After a weak first half of 2021, international tourism rebounded during the Northern Hemisphere summer season, boosting results for the third quarter of the year, especially in Europe.

According to the newest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased by 58% in July-September 2021 compared to the same period of 2020. However, they remained 64% below 2019 levels. Europe recorded the best relative performance in the third quarter, with international arrivals 53% down on the same three-month period of 2019. In August and September arrivals were at -63% compared to 2019, the best monthly results since the start of the pandemic.

Between January and September 2021, worldwide international tourist arrivals stood at -20% compared to 2020, a clear improvement over the first six months of the year (-54%). In some sub regions – Southern and Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, North and Central America – arrivals actually rose above 2020 levels in the first nine months of 2021. Some islands in the Caribbean and South Asia, together with a few small destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe saw their best performance in Q3 2021 according to available data, with arrivals coming close to, or sometimes exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

We cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Data for the third quarter of 2021 is encouraging. However, arrivals are still 76% below pre-pandemic levels and results across the different global regions remain uneven.” In light of the rising cases and the emergence of new variants, he added that “we cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations,  coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector.”

The uplift in demand was driven by increased traveler confidence amid rapid progress on vaccinations and the easing of entry restrictions in many destinations. In Europe, the EU Digital Covid Certificate has helped facilitate free movement within the European Union, releasing significant pent-up demand after many months of restricted travel. Arrivals in January-September 2021 were only 8% below the same period of 2020 yet still 69% below 2019. The Americas recorded the strongest inbound results in January-September, with arrivals up 1% compared to 2020 but still 65% below 2019 levels. The Caribbean recorded the strongest results by subregion with arrivals up 55% compared to the same period in 2020, though still 38% below 2019.

Slow and uneven pace of recovery

Despite the improvement seen in the third quarter of the year, the pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions. This is due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence. While Europe (-53%) and the Americas (-60%) enjoyed a relative improvement during the third quarter of 2021, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific were down 95% compared to 2019 as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel. Africa and the Middle East recorded 74% and 81% drops respectively in the third quarter compared to 2019. Among the larger destinations, Croatia (-19%), Mexico (-20%) and Turkey (-35%) posted the best results in July-September 2021, according to information currently available.

Gradual improvement in receipts and expenditure

Data on international tourism receipts show a similar improvement in Q3 of 2021. Mexico recorded the same earnings as in 2019, while Turkey (-20%), France (-27%) and Germany (-37%) posted comparatively smaller declines from earlier in the year. In outbound travel, results were also moderately better, with France and Germany reporting -28% and -33% respectively in international tourism expenditure during the third quarter.

On the upside, tourism spending per trip has increased significantly due to large savings and pent-up demand, softening the blow to economies. International receipts rose from an average of US$ 1,000 per arrival in 2019 to US$ 1,300 in 2020 and could exceed US$ 1,500 in 2021. However, higher spending is also the result of longer stays, rising transport and accommodation prices.

Looking ahead

Despite recent improvements, uneven vaccination rates around the world and new Covid-19 strains could impact the already slow and fragile recovery. The economic strain caused by the pandemic could also weigh on travel demand, aggravated by the recent spike in oil prices and disruption of supply chains. According to the latest UNWTO data, international tourist arrivals are expected to remain 70% to 75% below 2019 levels in 2021, a similar decline as in 2020.

Revenues from international tourism could reach US$ 700-800 billion in 2021, a small improvement from 2020 but less than half the US$ 1.7 trillion recorded in 2019. The economic contribution of tourism is estimated at US$ 1.9 trillion in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) well below the pre-pandemic value of US$ 3.5 trillion.

The safe resumption of international tourism will continue to depend largely on a coordinated response among countries in terms of travel restrictions, harmonized safety and hygiene protocols and effective communication to help restore consumer confidence. This is particularly critical at a moment when cases are surging in some regions and new Covid-19 variants are emerging in different parts of the world.

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Vaccines and Reopen Borders Driving Tourism’s Recovery

Vaccines and Reopen Borders Driving Tourism’s Recovery

International tourism enjoyed signs of rebound in June and July 2021 as some destinations eased travel restrictions and the global vaccination rollout advanced in many parts of the world.

According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, an estimated 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July 2021, down 67% from the same month in 2019, but the strongest results since April 2020. This compares to an estimated 34 million international arrivals recorded in July 2020, though well below the 164 million figure recorded in 2019.

Moderate rebound for most destinations

Most destinations reporting data for June and July 2021 saw a moderate rebound in international arrivals compared to 2020. Nevertheless, 2021 continues to be a challenging year for global tourism, with international arrivals down 80% in January-July compared to 2019. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the weakest results in the period January to July, with a 95% drop in international arrivals compared to 2019. The Middle East (-82%) recorded the second largest decline, followed by Europe and Africa (both -77%). The Americas (-68%) saw a comparatively smaller decrease, with the Caribbean showing the best performance among world subregions. Meanwhile, some small islands in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia and the Pacific, together with a few small European destinations recorded the best performance in June and July, with arrivals close to, or sometimes exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

The true restart of tourism and the benefits it brings, remain on hold as inconsistent rules and regulations and uneven vaccination rates continue to affect confidence in travel

Confidence in travel slowly rising

This improvement was underpinned by the reopening of many destinations to international travel, mostly in Europe and the Americas. The relaxation of travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers, coupled with progress made in the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, contributed to lifting consumer confidence and gradually restoring safe mobility in Europe and other parts of the world. In contrast, most destinations in Asia remain closed to non-essential travel.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “There is clearly a strong demand for international tourism, and many destinations have started welcoming visitors back safely and responsibly. However, the true restart of tourism and the benefits it brings, remain on hold as inconsistent rules and regulations and uneven vaccination rates continue to affect confidence in travel.”

Tourism Earnings

Although destinations continued to report weak international tourism revenues in the first seven months of 2021, several did record a modest improvement in June and July, and some even surpassed the earnings of 2019. Among the larger destinations, Mexico earned roughly the same tourism receipts in June 2021 as in 2019, and in July posted a 2% increase over 2019.

The same is true for outbound travel. Among the larger markets, France (-35%) and the United States (-49%) saw a significant improvement in July, though tourism spending was still well below 2019 levels.

Looking Ahead

Prospects for September-December 2021 remain mixed, according to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, with 53% of respondents believing the period will be worse than expected. Only 31% of experts expect point to better results towards the end of the year. The survey also shows that most tourism professionals continue to expect a rebound driven by unleashed pent-up demand for international travel in 2022, mostly during the second and third quarters.

Almost half of all experts (45%) continue to see international tourism returning to 2019 levels in 2024 or later, while 43% point to a recovery in 2023. By regions, the largest share of experts pointing to a return to 2019 levels in 2024 or later are in Asia and the Pacific (58%). In Europe, half of respondents indicate this could happen in 2023. The Middle East is the most optimistic, with a full recovery expected by 2022.

Iternational tourist arrivals: Scenarios for 2021

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International Travel Largely on Hold Despite Uptick in May

International Travel Largely on Hold Despite Uptick in May

The biggest crisis in the history of tourism continues into a second year. Between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85% below 2019 levels (or a 65% drop on 2020), UNWTO data shows. Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of COVID-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel. Meanwhile, domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world.

The latest UNWTO data shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than pre-pandemic year of 2019. However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82% (versus May 2019), after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.

Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism

Rebuild trust to restart tourism

“Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

By regions, Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the largest decline with a 95% drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Europe (-85%) recorded the second largest decline in arrivals, followed by the Middle East (-83%) and Africa (-81%). The Americas (-72%) saw a comparatively smaller decrease. In June, the number of destinations with complete closure of borders decreased to 63, from 69 in February. Of these, 33 were in Asia and the Pacific, while just seven in Europe, the region with the fewest restrictions on travel currently in place.

By subregions, the Caribbean (-60%) recorded the best relative performance through May 2021. Growing travel from the United States has benefitted destinations in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Mexico. Western Europe, Southern and Mediterranean Europe, South America and Central America saw slightly better results in May than in April.

Mixed outlook for remainder of 2021

International tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to reimpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. However, vaccination programmes around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.

In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets. Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the United States is strengthening further.

 

International Tourist Arrivals: Scenarios for 2021

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Tourist Numbers Down 83% but Confidence Slowly Rising

Tourist Numbers Down 83% but Confidence Slowly Rising

International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.

Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector. 

Lack of coordination harms #RestartTourism

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili comments: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.

The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.

Overall, 60% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January. Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.

Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.

The Impact of COVID on Tourism cuts global exports by 4%

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$ 900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$ 1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70% in real terms) and the Middle East (-69%) saw the largest drops in receipts.

International Tourist Arrivals: Scenarios for 2021

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Tourist Arrivals Down 87% in January 2021 as UNWTO calls for Stronger Coordination to Restart Tourism

Tourist Arrivals Down 87% in January 2021 as UNWTO calls for Stronger Coordination to Restart Tourism

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism has carried on into 2021, with new data showing an 87% fall in international tourist arrivals in January as compared to 2020. The outlook for the rest of the year remain cautious as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) continues to call for stronger coordination on travel protocols between countries to ensure the safe restart of tourism and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector.

Following a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered further setbacks in the beginning of the year as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks. According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, all world regions continued to experience large drops in tourist arrivals in the first month of the year. Mandatory testing, quarantines, and in some cases the complete closure of borders, have all hindered the resumption of international travel. In addition, the speed and distribution of the vaccination roll-out have been slower than expected, further delaying the restart of tourism.

All global regions hit hard

The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses are depending on it

Asia and the Pacific (-96%), the region which continues to have the highest level of travel restrictions in place, recorded the largest decrease in international arrivals in January. Europe and Africa both saw a decline of 85% in arrivals, while the Middle East recorded a drop of 84%. International arrivals in the Americas decreased by 77% in January, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. The international community needs to take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses are depending on it. Improved coordination between countries and harmonized travel and health protocols are essential to restore confidence in tourism and allow international travel to resume safely ahead of the peak summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

Outlook for 2021

With 32% of all global destinations completely closed to international tourists at the beginning of February, UNWTO anticipates a challenging first few months of 2021 for global tourism.

Based on current trends, UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to be down about 85% in the first quarter of 2021 over the same period of 2019. This would represent a loss of some 260 million international arrivals when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Looking ahead, UNWTO has outlined two scenarios for 2021, which consider a possible rebound in international travel in the second half of the year. These are based on a number of factors, most notably a major lifting of travel restrictions, the success of vaccination programmes or the introduction of harmonized protocols such as the Digital Green Certificate planned by the European Commission.

The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 66% increase in international arrivals for the year 2021 compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below the levels of 2019. 

International Tourism arrivals in 2020 and scenarios for 2021

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