TOURISM GROWS 4% IN 2021 BUT REMAINS FAR BELOW PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS IN 2022
UNWTO reports 4% rise in international tourist arrivals in 2021
However, 2021 was another challenging year: arrivals still 72% down on pre-pandemic levels
Recovery needs stronger coordination and increased vaccination rates
Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021, compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million). However, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72% 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%.
The first 2022 issue of theUNWTO World Tourism Barometerindicates 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 moderatelyduring the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62% in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen.
Slow and uneven recovery
Thepace of recoveryremains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence.Europe and the Americasrecorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but still both 63% below pre-pandemic levels.
By subregion,the Caribbeansaw the best performance (+63% above 2020, though 37% below 2019), with some destinations coming close to, or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.Southern Mediterranean Europe(+57%) andCentral America(+54%) also enjoyed a significant rebound but remain 54% and 56% down on 2019 levels respectively.North America(+17%) andCentral Eastern Europe(+18%) also climbed above 2020 levels.
Meanwhile,Africasaw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74% below 2019. In theMiddle Eastarrivals declined 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019. InAsia and the Pacificarrivals were still 65% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.
Theeconomic contribution of tourismin 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated atUS$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 tourismcould exceedUS$700 billionin 2021, a small improvement over 2020 due to higher spending per trip, but less than half the US$1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.
Averagereceipts per arrival are estimated to reach US$1,500in 2021, up from US$1,300 in 2020. This is due to largepent-up savings and longer lengths of stay, as well as highertransport and accommodation prices. France and Belgium reported comparatively smaller declines in tourism expenditure with -37% and -28%, respectively over 2019. Saudi Arabia (-27%) and Qatar (-2%) also posted somewhat better results in 2021.
According to the latestUNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals (61%) see better prospects for 2022. While 58% expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter, 42% point to a potential rebound only in 2023. A majority of experts (64%) now expect international arrivals toreturn to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45% in the September survey.
When do you expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels in your country?
TheUNWTO Confidence Indexshows a slight decline in January-April 2022.A rapid and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more coordination and clearer information on travel protocols, are the main factors identified by experts for the effective recovery of international tourism. UNWTO scenarios indicate that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30% to 78% in 2022 compared to 2021. However, this would still be 50% to 63% below pre-pandemic levels.
The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant are set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions for certain markets. At the same time, the vaccination roll-out remains uneven and many destinations still have their borders completely closed, mostly in Asia and the Pacific. A challenging economic environment could put additional pressure on the effective recovery of international tourism, with the surge in oil prices, increase in inflation, potential rise in interest rates, high debt volumes and the continued disruption in supply chains. However, the ongoing tourism recovery in many markets, mostly in Europe and the Americas, coupled with the widespread vaccination rollout and a major coordinated lifting of travel restrictions, could help to restore consumer confidence and accelerate the recovery of international tourism in 2022.
While international tourism bounces back,domestic tourismcontinues to drive recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations, particularly those with large domestic markets. According to experts, domestic tourism and travelclose to home, as well asopen-airactivities,nature-basedproducts andrural tourismare among the major travel trends that will continue shaping tourism in 2022.
Note: The above is based on available data gathered by UNWTO at the time of publication.