The international tourism sector has been going through grave crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic since the global arrivals fell by 72% over the first ten months of 2020, with restrictions on travel, low consumer confidence and a global struggle to contain the COVID-19 virus.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it was the worst year on record in the history of tourism.
Destinations welcomed 900 million fewer international tourists between January and October when compared with the same period of 2019, shows UNWTO data.
This translates into a loss of US$ 935 billion in export revenues from international tourism, more than 10 times the loss in 2009 under the impact of the global economic crisis.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Since the start of this crisis, UNWTO has provided governments and businesses with trusted data showing the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism.”
Zurab also mentioned that “Even as the news of a vaccine boosts traveller confidence, there is still a long road to recovery. We thus need to step up our efforts to safely open borders while supporting tourism jobs and businesses. It is ever clearer that tourism is one of the most affected sectors by this unprecedented crisis.”
Based on the current evidence, UNWTO expects international arrivals to decline by 70% to 75% for the whole of 2020.
In this case, global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago, with 1 billion fewer arrivals and a loss of some US$ 1.1 trillion in international tourism receipts.
This massive drop in tourism due to the pandemic could result in an economic loss of US$ 2 trillion in world GDP.
Travel restrictions continue to weigh on the recovery
Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic and the one with the highest level of travel restrictions to date, saw an 82% decrease in arrivals in the first ten months of 2020. The Middle East recorded a 73% decline, while Africa saw a 69% drop. International arrivals in both Europe and the Americas declined by 68%.
Europe recorded smaller decreases of 72% and 76% in September and October compared to other world regions, following the slight though short-lived recovery in the summer peak months of July and August. The resurgence of the virus across the region has led to the reintroduction of some forms of travel restrictions. However, Europe is the region in which more destinations (91% as of 1 November 2020) have eased such restrictions, mainly among Schengen Member States.
Demand remains weak overall despite a slight improvement in some markets
Data on international tourism expenditure continues to reflect very weak demand for outbound travel. However, some large markets such as the United States, Germany and France have shown some signs of recovery in the recent months. Furthermore, demand for domestic tourism continues to grow in some markets, including both China and Russia.
Looking ahead, the announcement of a vaccine and the start of vaccination are expected to gradually increase consumer confidence. At the same time, a growing number of destinations are easing or lifting restrictions on travel. According to the latest research from UNWTO, the proportion of closed destinations has dropped from 82% in late April 2020 to 18% in early November (expressed in percentage of international arrivals).
Statement by the Global Tourism Crisis Committee
Meeting on the occasion of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, virtually from Lisbon, Portugal, on 9 December 2020, to accelerate the coordination of international cross-border travel principles and protocols in view of a safe and seamless restart of tourism, the members of the Committee recalled, in line with WHO and ECDC/EASA1 guidance, that:
1. The prevalence of COVID-19 in travellers is estimated likely to be lower than the prevalence in the general population or among contacts of confirmed cases.
2. Travellers should not be considered as a high-risk population and should be subject to the same regulations or recommendations as applied to the local population.
3. In the current epidemiological situation, quarantine or systematic testing for SARS-CoV-2 of air travellers is not recommended.
The Committee called for
1. Support for WHO in its efforts to work with partners to update and review evidence-based guidance for international travel consistent with International Health Regulations2 provisions focusing on providing guidance for effective, risk-based, and coherent approaches (including targeted use of diagnostics and shorter quarantine lengths or the abolishment of quarantines) that consider transmission levels, response capacities in origin and destination countries, and relevant travel-specific considerations.
2. The establishment of internationally agreed evidence-based risk-assessment indicators and their harmonization among countries as is the case of the European Union traffic light system
3. Countries to ensure that measures affecting international traffic are risk-based, evidence-based, coherent, proportionate and time-limited.
4. The implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) CART Take-off guidance and the Manual on Testing and Cross-border Risk Management Measures3
5. The stepping up of the coordination regarding the vaccination certificates to ensure a timely definition on common and harmonized principles and protocols related to vaccination certificates and international travel.