UNWTO expects 85% international tourist arrival downturn in Q1 2021 versus 2019

Nehal Samir
4 Min Read

International tourist arrivals are expected to see an 85% downturn in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has revealed.

This would represent a loss of some 260 million international arrivals when compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

With 32% of all global destinations completely closed to international tourists at the beginning of February, the UNWTO anticipates, in its latest report, a challenging first few months of 2021 for global tourism.

Looking ahead, the organisation has outlined two scenarios for 2021, which consider a possible rebound in international travel in the second half (H2) of 2021. 

According to the report, these are based on a number of factors, most notably: a major lifting of travel restrictions; the success of vaccination programmes; or the introduction of harmonised protocols, such as the Digital Green Certificate planned by the European Commission.

The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 66% increase in international arrivals for 2021, compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. 

The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. This would still be 67% below the levels of 2019.

The UNWTO said that the devastating impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on global tourism has carried on into 2021. New data shows an 87% fall in international tourist arrivals in January, as compared to 2020. 

The outlook for the rest of the year remain cautious, as the UNWTO continues to call for stronger coordination on travel protocols between countries. This would take place to ensure the safe restart of tourism, and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector. 

Following a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered further setbacks in the beginning of the year, as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks. 

According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, all world regions continued to experience large drops in tourist arrivals in the first month of the year. 

Mandatory testing, quarantines, and in some cases the complete closure of borders, have all hindered the resumption of international travel. In addition, the speed and distribution of the vaccination roll-out have been slower than expected, further delaying the restart of tourism.

According to the report, although all global regions were hit hard, it was Asia and the Pacific that recorded the largest decrease in international arrivals in January, with a reduction of 96%.

Both Europe and Africa saw a decline of 85% in arrivals, while the Middle East recorded a drop of 84%. International arrivals in the Americas decreased by 77% in January, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.

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