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International tourism growth continues to outpace the global economy

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According to the first comprehensive report on global tourism numbers and trends of the new decade, the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, this represents the tenth consecutive year of growth.

All regions saw a rise in international arrivals in 2019. However, uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the collapse of Thomas Cook, geopolitical and social tensions and the global economic slowdown all contributed to a slower growth in 2019, when compared to the exceptional rates of 2017 and 2018. This slowdown affected mainly advanced economies and particularly Europe and Asia and the Pacific.

Looking ahead, growth of 3% to 4% is predicted for 2020, an outlook reflected in the latest UNWTO Confidence Index which shows a cautious optimism: 47% of participants believe tourism will perform better and 43% at the same level of 2019. Major sporting events, including the Tokyo Olympics, and cultural events such as Expo 2020 Dubai are expected to have a positive impact on the sector.

Responsible growth

Presenting the results, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stressed that “in these times of uncertainty and volatility, tourism remains a reliable economic sector”. Against the backdrop of recently downgraded global economic perspectives, international trade tensions, social unrest and geopolitical uncertainty, “our sector keeps outpacing the world economy and calling upon us to not only grow but to grow better”, he added.

Given tourism’s position as a top export sector and creator of employment, UNWTO advocates the need for responsible growth. Tourism has, therefore, a place at the heart of global development policies, and the opportunity to gain further political recognition and make a real impact as the Decade of Action gets underway, leaving just ten years to fulfill the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The Middle East leads

The Middle East has emerged as the fastest-growing region for international tourism arrivals in 2019, growing at almost double the global average (+8%). Growth in Asia and the Pacific slowed down but still showed above-average growth, with international arrivals up 5%.

Europe where growth was also slower than in previous years (+4%) continues to lead in terms of international arrivals numbers, welcoming 743 million international tourists last year (51% of the global market). The Americas (+2%) showed a mixed picture as many island destinations in the Caribbean consolidated their recovery after the 2017 hurricanes while arrivals fell in South America due partly to ongoing social and political turmoil. Limited data available for Africa (+4%) points to continued strong results in North Africa (+9%) while arrivals in Sub-Saharan Africa grew slower in 2019 (+1.5%).

Tourism spending still strong

Against a backdrop of global economic slowdown, tourism spending continued to grow, most notably among the world’s top ten spenders. France reported the strongest increase in international tourism expenditure among the world’s top ten outbound markets (+11%), while the United States (+6%) led growth in absolute terms, aided by a strong dollar.

However, some large emerging markets such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia reported declines in tourism spending. China, the world’s top source market saw outbound trips increase by 14% in the first half of 2019, though expenditure fell 4%.

Tourism delivering ‘much-needed opportunities’

“The number of destinations earning US$1 billion or more from international tourism has almost doubled since 1998,” adds Mr Pololikashvili. “The challenge we face is to make sure the benefits are shared as widely as possible and that nobody is left behind. In 2020, UNWTO celebrates the Year of Tourism and Rural Development, and we hope to see our sector lead positive change in rural communities, creating jobs and opportunities, driving economic growth and preserving culture.”

This latest evidence of the strength and resilience of the tourism sector comes as the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary. During 2020, through the UN75 initiative the UN is carrying out the largest, most inclusive conversation on the role of global cooperation in building a better future for all, with tourism to be high on the agenda.

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UNWTO Launches Comprehensive Tourism Recovery Tracker

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As growing numbers of countries around the world ease restrictions on travel, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has launched a new Tourism Recovery Tracker to support global tourism. This represents the latest concrete action undertaken by the United Nations specialized agency as it leads the response of global tourism and guides recovery.

The most comprehensive tourism dashboard to date, the Tracker is the result of a partnership between international organizations and the private sector. Available for free, it covers key tourism performance indicators by month, regions and subregions allowing for a real time comparison of the sector recovery across the world and industries. 

All key tourism data in one place

The UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker compiles all the relevant data in one place, giving governments and the private businesses the ability to track the recovery of  tourism at global and regional level, alongside information on the top destinations for international tourism The tracker includes data on:

  • international tourist arrivals
  • seat capacity in international and domestic air routes,
  • air travel bookings,
  • hotel searches and bookings,
  • occupancy rates and
  • demand for short term rentals

The UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker is available for free and is a collaborative effort by a group of partners including the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), ForwardKeys, STR, Sojern and AIRDNA.

According to UNWTO latest World Tourism Barometer, 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.

The Tracker was announced on the back of the 112th Session of the UNWTO Executive Council, which met in person and virtually in Tbilisi, Georgia, to work together to guide the sustainable and responsible recovery of tourism from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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International Tourist Numbers Down 65% in First Half of 2020

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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.

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Global Community Unites to Celebrate “Tourism and Rural Development”

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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.  

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