Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021, compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million). However, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to preliminary estimates by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, when international arrivals decreased by 73%.
The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with the easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols have all helped release pent up demand.
International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half (2H) of 2021, with international arrivals down 62% in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen.
According to the UNWTO, the pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates, and traveler confidence. Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but both are still 63% below pre-pandemic levels.
Meanwhile, Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74% below 2019. In the Middle East, arrivals declined by 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019.
In Asia and the Pacific, arrivals were still 65% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.
The UNWTO showed that the economic contribution of tourism in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at $1.9trn, up from 2020’s $1.6trillion, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of $3.5trn.
Furthermore, Export revenues from international tourism could exceed $700bn in 2021, a small improvement over 2020 due to higher spending per trip, but less than half the $1.7trn recorded in 2019.
“Average receipts per arrival are estimated to reach $1,500 in 2021, up from $1,300 in 2020. This is due to large pent-up savings and longer lengths of stay, as well as higher transportation and accommodation prices. France and Belgium reported comparatively smaller declines in tourism expenditure with -37% and -28%, respectively, over 2019. Saudi Arabia (-27%) and Qatar (-2%) also posted somewhat better results in 2021,” according to the UNWTO.