As shown by the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, low consumer confidence and the reintroduction of travel restrictions due to the virus’s evolving nature contributed to the worst year in tourism history.

Today, destinations received 1 billion fewer international arrivals compared to the year before.

In 2019 alone, international arrivals reached a record high of 1.5 billion (expected to increase to 1.8 billion in 2030). Today, destinations received 1 billion fewer international arrivals compared to the year before. This translates in the fall of international arrivals by 74% in the year 2020 and a staggering loss of US$ 1.3 trillion in export revenues, eleven times more than that during the 2009 financial crisis (UNWTO data).

Europe, the Americas and Africa have higher health and hygiene scores, allowing for the easing of travel restrictions faster than in places with relatively lower scores. Destinations with higher levels of restrictions tend to be within emerging economies especially in Middle East, Asia and the Pacific (UNWTO data).

Whereas global efforts to beat the virus have been implemented to restart tourism, the crisis is far from over. From UNWTO 8th  Travel Restrictions report, we see that countries are gradually opening borders as the situation improves, yet closing them back up, as the third wave appeared.

In an effort to monitor tourism´s recovery, UNWTO launched the innovative Tourism Recovery Tracker which tracks tourism performance indicators (such as international tourist arrivals, air travel bookings, and hotel searches) by month, region, and sub-region, providing real-time data on the recovery process across the world and industry.  

UNWTO has released a set of Recommendations for Action, which include policy measures such as tax reviews, skills development, protection of vulnerable groups, legal protection for tourists, and job incentivisation.

The pandemic has affected tourism as a leisure activity and as an economic sector that, up to 2019, contributed to 1 out of 10 jobs worldwide. Today the pandemic put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk, especially from small and medium-sized enterprises (UNWTO data). Aware of the huge potential tourism can bring to a country´s overall economy, governments have advocated placing tourism at the forefront of their policy measures, in hopes to save millions of jobs. UNWTO has released a set of Recommendations for Action, which include policy measures such as tax reviews, skills development, protection of vulnerable groups, legal protection for tourists, and job incentivisation. This is aimed at ensuring greater consumer protection standards to boost confidence in international travel.

When do you expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels in your country? Survey results below:

Looking ahead, the start of mass vaccinations around the globe has the potential to heal this core sector of the wounded global economy. Vaccine roll-outs will help increase confidence in travel.

Workers are already receiving vaccines in the first months of 2021 in places like Dubai – where there are plans to have 50% of its population vaccinated before April (with a particular focus on tourism workers). Dubai is one example of how countries can start to reopen the industry (Elbahrawy, 2012). However, it is also crucial to support non-pharmacological interventions and local government guidance around masks and social distancing to reduce further outbreaks. As we have seen from other eradication programmes, Malaria (Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 2019) and Polio (Razum, 2019), vaccination is part of a complex eradication strategy.

Vaccines alone cannot save the sector. Other safety measures to support the travel sector include rapid testing at airports, vaccine certificates, screening at national borders or quarantines before travel.

Vaccines alone cannot save the sector. Other safety measures to support the travel sector include rapid testing at airports, vaccine certificates, screening at national borders or quarantines before travel. Moreover, as welcome as these measures are, it is possible and desirable to go further.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili explains, “This crisis is an opportunity to rethink the tourism sector and its contribution to the people and planet; an opportunity to build back better towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient tourism sector that ensure the benefits of tourism are enjoyed widely and fairly.”

By Belén Ramírez Llopis

UNWTO Communications Associate and Cov360 Tourism Advisor.

1 February 2021

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