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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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Tourism

Advancing an International Code for Protection of Tourists

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The Committee for the Development of an International Code for the Protection of Tourists has met for a second time, bringing the establishment of the landmark legal framework a step closer to being realized.

UNWTO hosted the consultative virtual meeting which counted on the participation of 92 Member States, as well as one Associate Member. Joining them to inform the discussions were legal experts from several global regions, all of them members of the special Consultative Group as well as introducing the Observers, international organizations both governmental and non-governmental that will join forces with UNWTO in the development of the Code and guarantee that the result is a well representative and balanced set of standards

The diverse range of observers reflected the strong interest in an International Code designed to offer tourists greater protection as consumers and to spread the responsibility of assisting tourists affected by emergency situations across the whole of the sector. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, which is responsible for the EU’s tourism policies highlighted its interest in following this project in view of the potential commonalities with the Commission´s work. ,

Joining them were the representative from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Additionally, and highlighting strong interest from the private sector in the work of the Committee, a number of business organizations and member groups took part as observers, among them the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Hotrec, which represents the European hospitality sector.

Participants of the Committee also elected a Chair (Brazil) and Vice-Chair (Greece).

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UNWTO Brings Tourism Sector Together to Plan for the Future

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The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has once again brought leaders from across the sector together for high-level talks aimed at strengthening cooperation between the public and private sectors. The 42nd Plenary Session of the United Nations specialized agency’s Affiliate Members focused both on immediate priorities for tourism’s vital restart and on the longer-term task of ensuring the sector continues to be a key pillar of sustainable development.

The event provided a unique, high-level platform to allow Members to share their best practices and proposals for recovery. With the theme “Recovering Tourism. Rebuilding Trust. Reinforcing Partnerships,” the Session echoed the wider priorities of UNWTO, above all restoring confidence in international travel and promoting collaboration at every level. Participants were encouraged to make use of the new Affiliate Members Virtual Corner, launched to coincide with the Plenary Session.

United behind the UNWTO Programme of Work

The Plenary Session focused on laying the foundations for UNWTO’s Programme of Work for 2021. This roadmap includes continuing to make tourism a key pillar of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and further enhancing sustainability and inclusivity across the whole of the sector. UNWTO’s Affiliate Members, who include businesses, academia and civil society actors, will play an important role in the United Nations specialized agency’s work in the challenging months ahead.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The engaged participation of every part of our sector will be needed to restart tourism and drive recovery. From the start of this crisis, tourism has led the way in adapting to the new reality and putting public health concerns first. Now, tourism needs the support of governments and international organizations to grow back and grow back stronger and more resilient, benefitting many millions of people and businesses worldwide.”

Making good on UNWTO’s pledge to lead by example, this hybrid meeting again demonstrated that international travel is safe and that tourism is proactively adapting to the new post-COVID reality. In all, more than 200 delegates took part in the Plenary Session, either in-person or virtually, with the diversity of tourism on full display

Celebrating tourism at its best

Against the backdrop of Plenary Session, the UNWTO Affiliate Members Distinction Awards show how tourism is living up to its status as the ultimate people-first sector. The event celebrates those stakeholders who that best embodied the spirit of solidarity and determination that underlined the sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IFEMA, was recognized for its response to the crisis, in particular for allowing its exhibition spaces to be repurposed for healthcare. At the same time, CNN was recognized for its inspirational communication campaigns, including its work bringing the UNWTO #TravelTomorrow campaign to a global audience of millions.

Other Affiliate Members recognized at the 2020 Awards include Chameleon Strategies for its work in Asia, and both Facility Concept and the Africa Tourism Partners Company for advancing UNWTO’s work in Africa. The Xcaret Group was recognized for its work restarting attractions and theme parks, while IATA was commended for its work in support of the global air transport sector. Alongside these, CaixaBank was recognized for its support for tourism businesses of all sizes, with the Ayuntamiento de Madrid leading by example in fostering public-private partnerships for response and recovery.

The ceremony also highlights tourism’s wider contribution and the role Affiliate Members are playing in advancing this. EGEDA was recognized for its work promoting the Sustainable Development Goals, the Seoul Tourism Organization, was commended for its work promoting tourism as a tool for peace and reconciliation, while the Royal Commission for Al Ula was singled out for its promotion of inclusive community development through tourism.

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New International Code to Provide Greater Legal Protection for Tourists

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Tourists are to be given greater legal protection as consumers under new plans being advanced by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). With restoring confidence a key priority for the sector, the International Code for the Protection of Tourists advanced by UNWTO with the support of almost 100 Member States so far, will make the support available to tourists affected by emergency situations clearer and more consistent globally.

In its first meeting, the Committee for the Development of an International Code for the Protection of Tourists has featured the active participation of 92 UNWTO Member States. Together, they adopted a concrete plan of action to restore tourists’ confidence through a common and harmonized framework. Within the next weeks, international organizations, the European Commission as well as private stakeholders will be called upon to join this unprecedented initiative to achieve a more fair and balanced share of responsibilities among all tourism stakeholders in the post COVID-19 world.

Helping tourists in trouble

Ahead of today’s meeting, UNWTO published the Recommendations for the Assistance to International Tourists in Emergency Situations, laying the ground for the International Code for the Protection of Tourists.

These Recommendations are addressed at States and are designed to ensure that responsibility for tourists in emergency situations is shared fairly across the whole of the tourism value chain, including:

  • Preventing possible disruptions by drawing up contingency plans and coordination protocols and training tourism stakeholders to assist tourists in emergency situations
  • Providing real-time information for tourists
  • Addressing cross-border cooperation between governments and tourism service providers
  • Fostering close collaboration between governments and travel and accommodation providers
  • Addressing the effective repatriation of tourists.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Uncertainty and a lack of trust in travel are among the biggest challenges we face as we work to restart tourism. An International Code for the Protection of Tourists will be a landmark step towards addressing this. Establishing a standard set of minimum consumer protection standards for tourists will help make people feel safer and more confident in international travel. And it will also ensure that the responsibility of managing the disruptions caused by this pandemic is shared fairly across the whole of our sector.”

It is anticipated a progress report on the development of the International Code for the Protection of Tourists will be presented at the next UNWTO General Assembly (end of 2021 in Marrakech, Morocco) for approval by Member States.

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