In the first quarter of 2024, international tourism reached 97% of the pre-pandemic level

Europe recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of this year, with strong demand within the region


21. May 2024.

According to UN Tourism (formerly UNWTO) data, international tourist arrivals reached 97% of the pre-pandemic level in the first quarter of 2024. Thus, from January to March, more than 285 million tourists traveled abroad. This result is 20% better than the one achieved in the same period last year. 

Almost complete recovery of tourism

In 2023, international tourist arrivals recovered by 89% compared to 2019 levels. At the same time, tourism export revenues remained at 97%, and direct tourism GDP reached the same levels as in 2019. The projection of the UN specialized tourism agency indicates a full recovery of international tourism in 2024 with arrivals increasing by 2% compared to 2019 levels.

Near East recorded the strongest relative growth, with international arrivals exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 36% in the first quarter of 2024. To recall, the Middle East last year became the first world region to recover, achieving 22% better results than before the pandemic.

Europe exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time in the first quarter (+1% compared to the first quarter of 2019). The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of this year, with strong demand within the region.

Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 than in the first quarter of 2019 and 13% more than in the first quarter of 2023. America has virtually recovered its pre-pandemic numbers in this first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels. International tourism is experiencing a rapid recovery in Asia and the Pacific where arrivals reached 82% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024, after a 65% recovery in 2023.

"The sector's recovery is very welcome news for our economies and the lives of millions. However, it also reminds us of the need to ensure appropriate tourism policies and destination management, with the aim of promoting sustainability and inclusion, while addressing externalities and the sector's impact on resources and communities ", said the Secretary General of UN Tourism, Zurab Pololikashvili.

By sub-region, North Africa recorded the best performance in the first quarter of 2024 with 23% more international arrivals than before the pandemic, followed by Central America (+8%), the Caribbean and Western Europe (both +7%). Southern Mediterranean Europe exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 1%, while South America practically reached 2019 levels. Northern Europe recovered 98% of pre-pandemic levels, while sub-Saharan Africa and North America recovered 95%.

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

According to available data, many destinations around the world continued to achieve strong results in the first quarter of 2024. The best results were achieved by Qatar with an increase of 177%, followed closely by Albania with 121%. Among the European countries in the TOP 10 are Serbia with 43% and Bulgaria with an increase of 38% compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Recovery of income from tourism

International tourism revenues in 2023 reached US$1,5 trillion, a full recovery from pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, but 97% in real terms, adjusted for inflation.

Looking at regions, Europe generated the highest revenues in 2023, with destinations earning US$660 billion, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 7% in real terms. Earnings in the Middle East rose 33% from 2019 levels. The Americas regained 96% of their pre-pandemic earnings in 2023 and Africa 95%. Asia Pacific generated 78% of its pre-crisis revenues.

Several destinations achieved outstanding revenue results this quarter compared to 2019 levels. At the very top is Serbia with 127% revenue compared to 2019, followed by Turkey with 82%.

Full recovery in 2024.

International tourism should fully recover in 2024 with strong demand, improved air connectivity and continued recovery in China and other major Asian markets. The latest UN tourist confidence index reflects a more optimistic mood and shows positive prospects for the upcoming summer season.

However, according to the UN Committee of Experts on Tourism, economic and geopolitical headwinds continue to pose significant challenges to international tourism and confidence levels. The IMF's report on the world economy, published in April, indicates a stable but slow economic recovery, although mixed by region. At the same time, persistent inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and trade disruptions continue to translate into high transportation and accommodation costs.

Tourists are expected to continue to look for value for money and travel closer to home in response to high prices and overall economic challenges, while extreme temperatures and other weather conditions could affect many travelers' destination choices. A group of UN experts on tourism is increasingly mentioning this as a problem for the sector.

Uncertainty arising from Russian aggression against Ukraine, the conflict between Hamas and Israel and other growing geopolitical tensions are also important negative risks for international tourism.

"As international tourism continues to recover and expand, driving economic growth and employment worldwide, governments will need to continue to adapt and improve their tourism management at national and local levels to put communities and residents at the center of this development", the UN agency for tourism concludes in its report.


21. May 2024.