International tourist arrivals decreased by 83% in the first quarter of 2021, as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of increasing passenger confidence in travel.
Between January and March 2021, destinations worldwide welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals than in the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of tourism activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals during the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). All of this is a continuation of the 73% drop in international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year in the sector.
However, as the epidemiological situation improves, and as more and more citizens are vaccinated, so does the optimism for international travel.
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili he commented that there is a significant "backlog" of demand and that according to their data, they see that confidence in tourism is slowly returning. “Vaccination will be key to recovery, but we need to improve coordination and communication, while making testing easier and more accessible if we want to see a return for the summer season", He emphasized Pololikashvili.
A recent survey by the UNWTO panel of tourism experts shows that the outlook for May-August is improving slightly. In addition, the pace of introduction of vaccination, as well as policies to safely launch tourism, most notably the EU digital green certificate, have boosted hopes of returning to some of these markets.
According to the UNWTO, 60% of experts expect the return of international tourism in 2022, compared to 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential recovery in 2021, although this is slightly less than the percentage in January. Almost half of the experts do not see a return to the level of international tourism from 2019 before 2024 or later.
Finally, tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and a lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as a major obstacle to the sector’s recovery.
COVID's impact on tourism reduces global exports by 4%
The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows an economic tribute to the pandemic. Revenues from international tourism in 2020 fell by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), a drop of over $ 900 billion, reducing the total value of world exports by more than 4% in 2020. The total loss of export revenue from international tourism (including passenger transport) is nearly $ 1,1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70%) and the Middle East (-69%) recorded the largest declines in revenue.