The toll of Covid-19 on international tourism is becoming more and more clear. Data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that, up to May, the cost was estimated to be two or three times that of the 2009 Global Economic Crisis. As the situation continues to evolve, the United Nations specialized agency has provided the first comprehensive insight into the impact of the pandemic, both in tourist numbers and lost revenues.
The latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer shows that the lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a substantial fall in international tourist numbers in May when compared to 2019. The Barometer also shows more than 50% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals between January and May. According to UNWTO data, this translates into US$320 billion lost in international tourism receipts.
1. Dramatic fall in tourism
“The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk, including in developing countries,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said. “Governments have a dual responsibility: to prioritize public health, and to protect jobs and businesses. This shows the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so.”
2. Restart underway but confidence low
UNWTO notices signs of a gradual and cautious change in trend. While tourism has returned to some destinations, the UNWTO Confidence Index has dropped to very low levels, both for the past period of January-April 2020, as well as for the prospects for May-August.
Most members of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts expect international tourism to recover by the second half of 2021; others expect a rebound in the first part of next year.
The group of global experts points to a series of downside risks such as travel restrictions and border shutdowns still in place in most destinations. Major outbound markets such as the United States and China are at a standstill; there are safety concerns associated with travel, and the resurgence of the virus and risks of new lockdowns or curfews. Concerns over a lack of reliable information and a deteriorating economic environment are indicated as factors weighing on consumer confidence.