Destinations lost more than one billion visitors in 2021

Destinations missed out on more than two billion international visitors in the past two years according to UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) data.

The UNWTO reported international arrivals were 72% down on 2019 at 415 million last year despite a 4% increase on 400 million in 2020. But that marked a year-on-year improvement of just one percentage point in comparison to 2019 when global international arrivals were close to 1.5 billion.

The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer notes a “moderate” rebound in international tourism in the second half of 2021, with arrivals down 62% on pre-pandemic levels over the third and fourth quarters.

But it reports: “The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven . . . due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence.” The UNWTO concluded “stronger coordination and increased vaccination rates” would be required to strengthen the recovery.

Two thirds (64%) of a UNWTO panel of experts forecast international tourism would not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or later, up from 43% in September 2021. Just one third (32%) forecast a recovery to 2019 levels by 2023.

The latest Barometer shows Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest regional results in 2021, with arrivals to Europe up 19% on 2020 and to the Americas up 17% – although both regions remained 63% below pre-pandemic visitor levels.

But the Caribbean recorded the best sub-region performance with a 63% increase on 2020 leaving the region just 37% down on 2019.

The Southern Mediterranean saw arrivals increase 57% on 2020 to leave the region 54% down on 2019, and arrivals to Central America rose 54%.

The UNWTO described the data as ‘preliminary’ and ‘limited’, pointing out: “The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in Covid-19 cases is yet to be seen.”

It forecast international arrivals would grow this year between 30% and 78% on 2021 but remain at least 50% below pre-pandemic levels.

The UNWTO noted: “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 recovery of international tourism, with the surge in oil prices, increase in inflation, potential rise in interest rates, high debt volumes and 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 in 2022.”

It added: “Domestic tourism continues to drive the recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations, particularly those with large domestic markets [and] domestic tourism and travel close to home will continue shaping tourism in 2022.”

The barometer reported tourism’s direct contribution to global GDP last year was $1.9 trillion, up from $1.6 trillion in 2020 but well below the pre-pandemic value of $3.5 trillion.

It estimated average receipts per international arrival at $1,500 in 2021, up from $1,300 in 2020 due to longer lengths of stay and higher transport and accommodation prices.

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