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International Tourism Down 70% as Travel Restrictions Impact All Regions

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Restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hit global tourism hard, with the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) showing a 70% fall in international arrivals for the first eight months of 2020.

According to the newest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international arrivals plunged 81% in July and 79% in August, traditionally the two busiest months of the year and the peak of the Northern Hemisphere summer season. The drop until August represents 700 million fewer arrivals compared to the same period in 2019 and translates into a loss of US$ 730 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is more than eight times the loss experienced on the back of the 2009 global economic and financial crisis.

“This unprecedented decline is having dramatic social and economic consequences, and puts millions of jobs and businesses at risk,” warned UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This underlines the urgent need to safely restart tourism, in a timely and coordinated manner”.

This unprecedented decline is having dramatic social and economic consequences, and puts millions of jobs and businesses at risk

Recovery short-lived

All world regions recorded large declines in arrivals in the first eight months of the year. Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer from the impact of COVID-19, saw a 79% decrease in arrivals, followed by Africa and the Middle East (both – 69%), Europe (-68%) and the Americas (-65%).

Following its gradual reopening of international borders, Europe recorded comparatively smaller declines in July and August (-72% and -69%, respectively). The recovery was short-lived however, as travel restrictions and advisories were reintroduced amid an increase in contagions. On the other side of the spectrum, Asia and the Pacific recorded the largest declines with -96% in both months, reflecting the closure of borders in China and other major destinations in the region.

Demand for travel remains largely subdued due to the ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic and low confidence. Based on the latest trends, UNWTO expects an overall drop close to 70% for the whole of 2020.

Rebound in international demand expected by Q3 2021

UNWTO’s Panel of Experts foresees a rebound in international tourism in 2021, mostly in the third quarter of 2021. However, around 20% of experts suggest the rebound could occur only in 2022. Travel restrictions are seen as the main barrier standing in the way of the recovery of international tourism, along with slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. The lack of coordinated response among countries to ensure harmonized protocols and coordinated restrictions, as well as the deteriorating economic environment were also identified by experts as important obstacles for recovery.

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Tourism

UNWTO and NEOM Launch ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ Challenge

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The ‘Tourism Experiences of the Future’ challenge will source innovative ideas and disruptive business models related to the tourism needs of the future, in line with growing demand for new experiences. All proposals must be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and should include the introduction or adaptation of digital and technological elements, as well as being focused at least one of the following areas:

  • Optimizing and maximizing the potential of experiential tourism
  • Harnessing the positive impact of new technology
  • Alternative business models
  • Innovative experiences

The competition is the first national initiative dedicated to identifying new companies that will lead the tourism sector’s transformation in Saudi Arabia. As well as established businesses, the competition also welcomes applications from Saudi Arabian start-ups and innovators with ideas capable of revolutionizing and inspiring tourists by presenting new ways and reasons to travel.

Applications are open until 2 November, with great interest expected, and participants must be Saudi citizens with legal capacity to enter into a contract. Successful projects will be selected based on various criteria, such as the degree of innovation, their viability and sustainability.

An Affiliate Member of UNWTO since 2019, NEOM is an accelerator of human progress and a vision of what a new future might look like. Located in northwest Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea, NEOM is ideally situated at the crossroads of the world, comprising a total area of 26,500 km². A special authority has been established to oversee NEOM, chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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Time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism

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Tourism “touches almost every part of our economies and societies”, enabling the historically marginalized, and “those at risk of being left behind, to benefit from development”, declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday, marking World Tourism Day.  

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism could result in a more than $4 trillion loss to the global economy, according to a recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 

Emergency for developing countries 

Highlighting the fact that in the first months of this year, “international tourist arrivals decreased by a staggering 95 per cent in parts of the world”, Mr. Guterres said that tourism continues to suffer enormously due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This is a major shock for developed economies, but for developing countries, it is an emergency”, he added.  

“Climate change is also severely affecting many major tourist destinations, particularly Small Island Developing States”, his message added. There, tourism accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all economic activity.  

Tourism for inclusive growth 

Acknowledging that many millions of livelihoods are in jeopardy, Mr. Guterres said that now it is “time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism”. 

“With the right safeguards in place, the tourism sector can provide decent jobs, helping to build resilient, sustainable, gender-equal, inclusive economies and societies that work for everyone”, he added. 

According to the United Nations specialized agency for responsible and sustainable tourism (UNWTO), tourism is a recognized pillar of most the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), particularly Goals 1 (poverty-elimination), 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (to reduce inequalities). 

In his message, Mr. Guterres went on to call for targeted action and investment, towards green and sustainable tourism, “with high emitting sectors, including air and sea transport and hospitality, moving towards carbon neutrality”.  

Adding that everybody should have a say in how tourism shapes the future of our societies, the UN chief concluded that “only through inclusive decision-making can we ensure inclusive, sustainable growth, deliver on the promise of the SDGs, and transform tourism to fulfil its potential”. 

The sector could then become “an engine for prosperity, a vehicle for integration, a means to protect our planet and biodiversity, and an agent of cultural understanding between peoples”, said Mr. Guterres. 

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Africa’s Tourism Leaders Identify Investments as Key to Sustainable Recovery

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The African Members of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have met in Cabo Verde to strengthen their cooperation and advance plans for recovery and sustainable growth.

The 64th meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa (CAF) saw 23 countries represented on the island of Sal, with 21 Ministers of Tourism joining five Ambassadors for the high-level event. Opening the Commission meeting, the President of Cabo Verde Jorge Carlos Fonseca offered a warm welcome to UNWTO’s leadership and to all delegates. The President was joined by Cabo Verde’s Minister of Tourism and Transport, Carlos Jorge Duarte Santos, and Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva in reaffirming support of the highest political level for tourism and recognition of the sector as a driver of recovery and sustainable development.

Chaired by Christine Kaseba Sata, Ambassador of Zambia to Spain and Permanent Representative to UNWTO, delegates addressed the biggest challenges standing in the way of the sector’s safe restart across the continent. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of speeding up vaccine rollouts across the continent, as well as addressing security issues that continue to have an impact on how global travellers perceive Africa as a safe tourism destination. Also on the agenda was the current level of connectivity between destinations, with improved air links the harmonization of travel protocols identified as an effective means for boosting regional tourism.

Tourism’s restart ‘essential’

Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed delegates to the Commission meeting, providing an overview of UNWTO’s work during the ongoing crisis and how this is driven by the stated priorities of its African Member States. He said. “The continent is united in its determination to use the power of tourism to drive development and opportunity for all. And with coordination and targeted investments, African tourism can finally fulfil its unique potential.”

Rebuilding trust in travel

In Cabo Verde, UNWTO Members were brought up-to-date on the development of the International Code for the Protection of Tourists, a landmark code aimed at helping restore confidence in travel. Members were also presented with an overview of the UNWTO General Programme of Work & Budget for the Period 2022-2023. Additionally, signalling a shared determination to keep moving forward even in challenging times, Members also held elections for key positions within UNWTO decision-making bodies ahead of the 24th General Assembly.

Building capacity

Running in parallel with the Commission meeting, UNWTO hosted capacity building workshops on innovation, digital marketing and investment These workshops were held ahead of the second edition of the UNWTO Global Tourism Investment Forum, opened by Prime Minister Dr. Ulisses Correia e Silva and featuring the participation of investors from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the USA as well as public and private sector leaders from across Africa. Backing up the workshop on marketing, UNWTO also launched its new Brand Africa publication. Produced with key African Tourism Partners, the publication aims at helping destinations use effective branding to diversify and attract visitors.

Also in Cabo Verde, tourism leader celebrated the signing and approval of the UNWTO Declaration on the Future of Mobility and Sustainable Transportation, a commitment aimed at the better understanding of how investments can help make the sector greener while also encouraging greater cooperation between tourism authorities and transport providers. Concluding the Regional Commission meeting, UNWTO signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Cabo Verde. The aim of the MoU is to enhance cooperation between UNWTO and the Ministry of Tourism to strengthen the country’s branding, boost tourism education initiatives, and support research into the socio-economic impact of the sustainable development of tourism across Cabo Verde.

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