The US remained the world’s biggest and most powerful travel and tourism market last year while the UK slipped down global rankings.
The UK slumped from fifth place in pre-pandemic 2019 to ninth in 2021, with a contribution to GDP of just over $157 billion, the biggest faller of the top ten countries.
The top ranking for the US was reaffirmed, despite suffering long and damaging travel restrictions which did little to halt the spread of Covid-19 and only resulted in serious economic losses, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
However, while its number one position was retained, the US travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy fell by $700 billion in 2019, to just under $1.3 trillion last year.
Research by Oxford Economics for WTTC shows no change in the top three countries – with China second and Germany third.
But the rankings are illusionary as the top economies bolstered their numbers through domestic travel, while international visitor numbers plummeted, the economic trends report highlights.
International traveller spend rankings saw the US toppled from its pre-pandemic top position.
France, which was in fourth place before the pandemic struck, overtook Spain, China and the US to grab the top slot.
China, which remains closed to much of the rest of the world, was in second place before the pandemic, but dropped to 11th position last year.
Across Asia Pacific, major markets such as Thailand and Japan saw huge losses in international spending, which resulted in both markets – in fifth and eighth place respectively before the pandemic – falling out of the top 20 altogether in 2021.
The WTTC data shows that in terms of the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP, China held onto its second position, with more than $814 billion, while Germany remained the third biggest in the world, contributing $251 billion to the economy.
China could overtake the US to become the world’s biggest travel and tourism market by 2032, the research projects.
Travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP could reach $3.9 trillion by 2032, making China the world’s most powerful market, and India could leapfrog Germany to reach third place with a projected value of $457 billion.
The new report from the global tourism body shows that business travel is on the road to recovery despite the challenges of the past two years.
Worldwide business travel is expected to grow more than 41% this year. It predicts that business travel could grow an average of 5.5% annually over the next decade and may return faster in the Asia-Pacific region.
WTTC president and chief executive Julia Simpson said: “Our report shows the resilience of the travel and tourism sector, despite the impact of travel restrictions around the world which failed to halt the spread of the virus.
“Despite a challenging macro environment, travel and tourism has bounced back.
“The world, with some exceptions, is travelling again. And we are seeing a resurgence in business travel. Over the next 10 years, travel and tourism growth will outstrip the global economy.”