International tourist arrivals grew 6% in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. UNWTO’s long term forecast issued in 2010 indicated the 1.4 billion mark would be reached in 2020, yet the remarkable growth of international arrivals in recent years has brought it two years ahead.
International tourist arrivals up 6% in 2018
UNWTO estimates that worldwide international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased 6% to 1.4 billion in 2018, clearly above the 3.7% growth registered in the global economy.
In relative terms, the Middle East (+10%), Africa (+7%), Asia and the Pacific and Europe (both at +6%) led growth in 2018. Arrivals to the Americas were below the world average (+3%).
“The growth of tourism in recent years confirms that the sector is today one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development. It is our responsibility to manage it in a sustainable manner and translate this expansion into real benefits for all countries, and particularly, to all local communities, creating opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship and leaving no one behind” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This is why UNWTO is focussing 2019 on education, skills and job creation.”, he added.
UNWTO’s long-term forecast published in 2010 predicted the 1.4 billion mark of international tourist arrivals for 2020. Yet stronger economic growth, more affordable air travel, technological changes, new businesses models and greater visa facilitation around the word have accelerated growth in recent years.
Results by region
International tourist arrivals in Europe reached 713 million in 2018, a notable 6% increase over an exceptionally strong 2017. Growth was driven by Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+7%), Central and Eastern Europe (+6%) and Western Europe (+6%). Results in Northern Europe were flat due to the weakness of arrivals to the United Kingdom.
Asia and the Pacific (+6%) recorded 343 million international tourist arrivals in 2018. Arrivals in South-East Asia grew 7%, followed by North-East Asia (+6%) and South Asia (+5%). Oceania showed more moderate growth at +3%.
The Americas (+3%) welcomed 217 million international arrivals in 2018, with mixed results across destinations. Growth was led by North America (+4%), and followed by South America (+3%), while Central America and the Caribbean (both -2%) reached very mixed results, the latter reflecting the impact of the September 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Data from Africa points to a 7% increase in 2018 (North Africa at +10% and Sub-Saharan +6%), reaching an estimated 67 million arrivals.
The Middle East (+10%) showed solid results last year consolidating its 2017 recovery, with international tourist arrivals reaching 64 million.
Growth expected to return to historical trends in 2019
Based on current trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO Confidence Index, UNWTO forecasts international arrivals to grow 3% to 4% next year, more in line with historic growth trends.
As a general backdrop, the stability of fuel prices tends to translate into affordable air travel while air connectivity continues to improve in many destinations, facilitating the diversification of source markets. Trends also show strong outbound travel from emerging markets, especially India and Russia but also from smaller Asian and Arab source markets.
At the same time, the global economic slowdown, the uncertainty related to the Brexit, as well as geopolitical and trade tensions may prompt a “wait and see” attitude among investors and travellers.
Overall, 2019 is expected to see the consolidation among consumers of emerging trends such as the quest for ‘travel to change and to show’, ‘the pursuit of healthy options’ such as walking, wellness and sports tourism, ‘multigenerational travel’ as a result of demographic changes and more responsible travel.
“Digitalisation, new business models, more affordable travel and societal changes are expected to continue shaping our sector, so both destination and companies need to adapt if they want to remain competitive”, added Pololikashvili.
International Tourist Numbers Down 65% in First Half of 2020
International tourist arrivals plunged 93% in June when compared to 2019, with the latest data from the World Tourism Organization showing the severe impact COVID-19 has had on the sector. According to the new issue of the World Tourism Barometer from the United Nations specialized agency, international tourist arrivals dropped by 65% during the first half of the year. This represents an unprecedented decrease, as countries around the world closed their borders and introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.
Over recent weeks, a growing number of destinations have started to open up again to international tourists. UNWTO reports that, as of early September, 53% of destinations had eased travel restrictions. Nevertheless, many governments remain cautious, and this latest report shows that the lockdowns introduced during the first half of the year have had a massive impact on international tourism. The sharp and sudden fall in arrivals has placed millions of jobs and businesses at risk.
Counting the economic cost
According to UNWTO, the massive drop in international travel demand over the period January-June 2020 translates into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about US$ 460 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is around five times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded in 2009 amid the global economic and financial crisis.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The latest World Tourism Barometer shows the deep impact this pandemic is having on tourism, a sector upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods. However, safe and responsible international travel is now possible in many parts of the world, and it is imperative that governments work closely with the private sector to get global tourism moving again. Coordinated action is key.”
All global regions hit hard
Despite the gradual reopening of many destinations since the second half of May, the anticipated improvement in international tourism numbers during the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere did not materialize. Europe was the second-hardest hit of all global regions, with a 66% decline in tourist arrivals in the first half of 2020. The Americas (-55%), Africa and the Middle East (both -57%) also suffered. However, Asia and the Pacific, the first region to feel the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, was the hardest hit, with a 72% fall in tourists for the six-month period.
At the sub-regional level, North-East Asia (-83%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (-72%) suffered the largest declines. All world regions and sub-regions recorded declines of more than 50% in arrivals in January-June 2020. The contraction of international demand is also reflected in double-digit declines in international tourism expenditure among large markets. Major outbound markets such as the United States and China continue to be at a standstill, though some markets such as France and Germany have shown some improvement in June.
Looking ahead, it seems likely that reduced travel demand and consumer confidence will continue to impact results for the rest of the year. In May, UNWTO outlined three possible scenarios, pointing to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals in 2020. Current trends through August point to a drop in demand closer to 70% (Scenario 2), especially now as some destinations re-introduce restrictions on travel.
The extension of the scenarios to 2021 point to a change in trend next year, based on the assumptions of a gradual and linear lifting of travel restrictions, the availability of a vaccine or treatment and a return of traveller confidence. Nonetheless, despite this, the return to 2019 levels in terms of tourist arrivals would take between 2 to 4 years.
Global Community Unites to Celebrate “Tourism and Rural Development”
The 2020 edition of World Tourism Day will celebrate the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of big cities and preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world.
Celebrated on 27 September with the theme of “Tourism and Rural Development”, this year’s international day of observation comes at a critical moment, as countries around the world look to tourism to drive recovery, including in rural communities where the sector is a leading employer and economic pillar.
The 2020 edition also comes as governments look to the sector to drive recovery from the effects of the pandemic and with the enhanced recognition of tourism at the highest United Nations level. This was most notably illustrated with the recent release of a landmark Policy Brief on tourism from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in which he explained that “for rural communities, indigenous peoples and many other historically marginalized populations, tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and generating income.”
Historic International Cooperation
For the first time in the 40-year history of World Tourism Day, the official celebration will not be hosted by a single Member State of the United Nations specialized agency. Instead, nations from the Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Chile joining with observer status) will serve as joint hosts. This co-hosting agreement exemplifies the spirit of international solidarity that runs through tourism and which UNWTO has recognized as essential for recovery.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “All around the world, tourism empowers rural communities, providing jobs and opportunity, most notably for women and youth. Tourism also enables rural communities to hold onto their unique cultural heritage and traditions, and the sector is vital for safeguarding habitat and endangered species. This World Tourism Day is a chance to recognize the role tourism plays outside of major cities and its ability to build a better future for all.”
Rural areas hit hard by COVID-10
For countless rural communities around the world, tourism is a leading provider of employment and opportunities. In many places, it is one of the few viable economic sectors. Moreover, development through tourism can also keep rural communities alive. It is estimated that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ live outside of towns and cities.
The situation is particularly hard for youth: young people in rural communities are three times more likely to be unemployed than older adults. Tourism is a lifeline, offering young people a chance to earn a living without having to migrate either within their home countries or abroad.
World Tourism Day 2020 will once again be celebrated by UNWTO’s Member States in all global regions as well as by cities and other destinations and by private sector organizations and individual tourists. It comes as communities in rural areas also struggle with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These communities are usually much less-prepared to deal with the short and longer-term impacts of the crisis. This is due to a number of factors, including their aging populations, lower income levels and the continuing ‘digital divide’. Tourism offers a solution to all of these challenges.
Covid-19 and Transforming Tourism
If tourism brings us together, then travel restrictions keep us apart.
More importantly, restrictions on travel also prevent tourism from delivering on its potential to build a better future for all.
This week the United Nations Secretary-General launched the Policy Brief “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism”, which UNWTO assumed the lead role in producing.
This landmark report makes clear what is at stake – the threat of losing tens of millions of direct tourism jobs, the loss of opportunities for those vulnerable populations and communities who stand to benefit most from tourism, and the real risk of losing vital resources for safeguarding natural and cultural heritage across the world.
Tourism needs to thrive, and this means that travel restrictions must be eased or lifted in a timely and responsible manner. It also means that policy decisions need to be coordinated across borders to face up to a challenge which does not care about borders! “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism” is a further element in the roadmap for the sector to regain its unique status as a source of hope and opportunity for all.
This is true for both developing and developed nations, and all governments and international organizations have a stake in supporting tourism.
But we can only call on governments to back up strong words with equally strong actions if we move first and take the lead. As destinations open up again, we are resuming in-person visits, to show support, to learn, and to build confidence in international travel.
On the back of our successful visits to destinations in Europe, UNWTO delegations are now seeing first-hand how the Middle East is ready to restart tourism safely and responsibly. In Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his government made clear how strong, targeted support, has saved jobs and allowed tourism to weather this unprecedented storm. Now iconic sites such as the Pyramids are ready to welcome back tourists, with the safety of both tourism workers and tourists themselves a priority. Similarly, the government of Saudi Arabia has warmly welcomed UNWTO and expressed a firm commitment to continue building the Kingdom’s tourism sector, first for domestic visitors and then international visitors.
The pandemic is far from over. As cases across the world make clear, we must be ready to act fast to save lives. But it also now also clear that we can also take decisive action to protect jobs and safeguard the many benefits tourism delivers, both for people and planet.
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