‘Tourism grows 4%, but remains far below pre-pandemic levels’
Global tourism experienced a 4 per cent upturn in 2021, compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million). However, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72 per cent below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to preliminary estimates by UNWTO. This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism when international arrivals decreased by 73 per cent.
The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols, have all helped release pent up demand. International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62 per cent in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels.
According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65 per cent below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen.
The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence. Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19 per cent and +17 per cent respectively), but still both 63 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.
By subregion, the Caribbean saw the best performance (+63 per cent above 2020, though 37 per cent below 2019), with some destinations coming close to, or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57 per cent) and Central America (+54 per cent) also enjoyed a significant rebound but remain 54 per cent and 56 per cent down on 2019 levels respectively. North America (+17 per cent) and Central Eastern Europe (+18 per cent) also climbed above 2020 levels.
Meanwhile, Africa saw a 12 per cent increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74 per cent below 2019. In the Middle East arrivals declined 24 per cent compared to 2020 and 79 per cent over 2019. In Asia and the Pacific, arrivals were still 65 per cent below 2020 levels and 94 per cent when compared to pre-pandemic values, as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.
The economic contribution of tourism in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at US$1.9 trillion, above the US$1.6 trillion in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of US$ 3.5 trillion. Export revenues from international tourism could exceed US$700 billion in 2021, a small improvement over 2020 due to higher spending per trip, but less than half the US$1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.