Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74% according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.
According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of USD 1.3 trillion in export revenues – more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.
Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, many countries are now reintroducing stricter travel restrictions. These include mandatory testing, quarantines and in some cases a complete closure of borders, all weighing on the resumption of international travel. At the same time, the gradual rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to help restore consumer confidence, contribute to the easing travel restrictions and slowly normalize travel during the year ahead.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over. The harmonization, coordination and digitalization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow.”
Recovery outlook remains cautious
The latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of respondents (45%) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while 25% expect a similar performance and 30% foresee a worsening of results in 2021.
The overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened. 50% of respondents now expect a rebound to occur only in 2022 as compared to 21% in October 2020. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound in 2021, though below the expectations shown in the October 2020 survey (79% expected recovery in 2021). As and when tourism does restart, the UNWTO Panel of Experts foresee growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences gaining increasing interest.
Looking further ahead, most experts do not to see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41% expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later. UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 indicate that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.
All world regions affected
Asia and the Pacific (-84%) – the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic and the one with the highest level of travel restrictions currently in place – recorded the largest decrease in arrivals in 2020 (300 million fewer). The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% decline.
Europe recorded a 70% decrease in arrivals, despite a small and short-lived revival in the summer of 2020. The region suffered the largest drop in absolute terms, with over 500 million fewer international tourists in 2020. The Americas saw a 69% decrease in international arrivals, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.
UNWTO and Greece to Collaborate on Maritime Tourism Research Centre
UNWTO is to collaborate with the Greek Ministry of Tourism in establishing a first research station dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism across the Mediterranean.
The new monitoring centre will be based at the University of the Aegean in Greece. From here, experts will capture and collate measurement data and analysis relating to the environmental, economic, and social impact of tourism.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Coastal and Maritime tourism is one of the most important economic drivers within the Mediterranean basin. This new research centre can provide key data to guide the restart and future development of the sector, ensuring it fulfils its potential to provide opportunity for coastal communities and to protect and celebrate natural and cultural heritage.”
The United Nations specialized agency and the Ministry of Tourism confirmed their collaboration on the initiative during the UNWTO High-Level Conference on Coastal and Maritime Tourism, held in Athens and co-hosted by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Celebrity Cruises.
The Tourism Minister of Greece Harry Theoharis said: “I express my immense gratitude for UNWTO’s support in this endeavour. The Research Center will soon become a reference point for the study and protection of our coasts and seas.”
Pierfrancesco Vago, Global Chairman of CLIA and Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises added: “CLIA is pleased to support the UNWTO research and monitoring centre on sustainability and coastal maritime tourism in the Mediterranean. As part of the cruise industry’s commitment to responsible travel, we are pursuing carbon neutral cruising in Europe by 2050, and we work closely with cruise destinations and coastal communities to support economic growth in a sustainable manner.
Tourist Numbers Down 83% but Confidence Slowly Rising
International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.
Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili comments: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”
The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.
Overall, 60% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January. Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.
https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4223532/embed?auto=1 Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.
The Impact of COVID on Tourism cuts global exports by 4%
The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$ 900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$ 1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70% in real terms) and the Middle East (-69%) saw the largest drops in receipts.
Empowering Indigenous Communities to Drive Tourism’s Recovery
The cultural diversity and knowledge of indigenous peoples can bring innovative experiences and new business opportunities for tourism destinations and local communities, and help them recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has partnered with the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) on a set of guidelines, designed to ensure this type of experiences are respectful and led by the indigenous communities themselves.
The new UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 4: Indigenous Communities, is the fourth set of guidelines addressing the socio-cultural impacts of COVID-19 issued by UNWTO. The partners call for placing Indigenous communities at the centre of recovery plans and for partnerships geared towards gathering accurate data on Indigenous tourism, and how it has been affected by the pandemic.
These recommendations draw on the partners’ expertise and set out solutions for the socio-economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through tourism. These include transitioning from “assisting” to “enabling” indigenous entrepreneurship, strengthening skills and building capacities, fostering digital literacy for running tourism businesses, and acknowledging the relevance of indigenous peoples by destination authorities and the tourism sector overall.
The Guide, launched on the occasion of the International Day of Cultural Diversity, builds on the decade-long partnership between UNWTO and WINTA. The two organizations work together to enable indigenous communities untap their tourism potential and promote their success stories. The most recent collaboration, the Weaving the Recovery Project, focuses on empowering Indigenous women through responsible tourism experiences and indigenous artisanship in Latin America.
The recommendations also benefitted from inputs provided by the Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In recent years, the OECD has also significantly advanced its policy research and promotion of good practices and networks championing indigenous tourism within its Member countries.
UNWTO stands ready to support platforms which reinforce indigenous peoples’ networks, making them the ultimate decision makers of tourism operations affecting their livelihoods.
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