International tourism faces worst crisis since records began: UNWTO

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The travel industry could face an 80 per cent drop in international arrivals for 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, with the livelihoods of 120 million people now at risk.

With the release of new reports from the world’s peak tourism authority, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the unparalleled impacts of the coronavirus are startlingly clear.

World tourism faces its worst crisis since records began in 1950, with as many as 1.1 billion fewer people travelling in 2020. All up, this could see a decline in international arrivals of up between 58 per cent and 80 per cent this year.

Worldwide travel restrictions and airport closures have all but shuttered the world’s tourism industry.

According to the UNWTO, the 58 per cent figure would be based on the gradual reopening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions by July, while the 80 per cent figure accounts for a reopening and easing by early December.

Based on the worst-case scenario, the crisis threatens the livelihoods of as many as 120 million people who directly depend on tourism for employment, as a result of the loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion tourists.

This translates to a potential financial drop in tourism export revenues of US$910 billion ($1.4 trillion) to US$1.2 trillion ($1.84 trillion).

The predictions are based on UNWTO’s figures for the first quarter of 2020, which showed the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a 22 per cent fall in international tourist arrivals, translating into US$80 billion ($122.7 billion) in lost exports.

Moreover, as lockdowns began to be enforced across the globe, March alone saw a 57 per cent drop in arrivals.

“The world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

“Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy.”

The figures are in line with the predictions of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which said more than 100 million jobs are at risk, with almost 75 million in G20 countries.

“This is a staggering and deeply worrying change in such a short time,” WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara said in April.

“In just the last month alone, our research shows an increase of 25 million in the number of job losses in travel and tourism. The whole cycle of tourism is being wiped out by the pandemic.”

The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with UNWTO expecting Asia and the Pacific – the regions hardest hit by the drop in tourism spend – to rebound first.

It comes as air passenger revenues are expected to be US$314 billion ($491 billion) below 2019. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines are also expected to burn through about US$61 billion (more than $95 billion) in liquidity in this year’s second quarter alone.

In April, the WTTC advised what the “new normal” of travel could look like with the release of four principles created to ensure “swift recovery for the sector”, which the authority delivered to G20 tourism ministers.

New protocols and standards are now reportedly being mapped out in collaboration with various associations, including the UNWTO, World Health Organisation, European Travel Commission and IATA, with measures on global hygiene standards and intensive cleaning regimes in hotels, aircraft and cruise ships.

The UNWTO, along with destination experts cited by the authority, expects domestic tourism to bounce back before international tourism. In Europe, this could well be a reality for Europeans seeking a summer holiday, according to the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen.

While closer to home, the idea of a trans-Tasman tourism bubble between Australia and New Zealand – and possibly the Pacific Islands – has been shared from an industry to governmental level.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has prioritised domestic border openings first, paving the way for a domestic tourism push by Tourism Australia.

If you are seeking support during this tough time, Travel Weekly‘s new industry network is ready to welcome you with open arms. Click HERE to join the Travel Trade Life Raft.

Featured image: iStock/Skyimages

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