Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74 per cent, according to the latest data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Destinations worldwide welcomed one billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the 4 per cent decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.
According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of US$1.3 trillion ($1.7 trillion) in export revenues – more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.
The research found that the COVID-19 pandemic has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of respondents (45 per cent) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while a quarter expect a similar performance, and 30 per cent foresee a worsening of results in 2021.
However, the overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened, with half of all survey respondents now expecting a rebound to only happen in 2022, compared to 21 per cent in October 2020.
Looking further ahead, most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023.
In fact, 43 per cent of survey respondents point to 2023, while 41 per cent expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later.
The UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021 to 2024 indicate that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, who was recently nominated to continue leading the agency for another four years, said: “While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over.
“The harmonisation, coordination and digitalisation of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow.”
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