The year 2020 can be considered an unprecedented crisis period for the international tourism sector. The UNWTO has recorded the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on international tourism over the past year and experts’ expectations of the sector’s resilience in the future.
According to UNWTO data, in the first 10 months of 2020, international tourism declined by 900 million international tourist arrivals, decreased 72% compared to the same period in 2019, causing a loss of 935 billion USD in export revenues from international tourism. Data in October 2020 from UNWTO expected that the number of international arrivals would decrease by 70% – 75% for the whole year of 2020, bringing international tourism back to the level of 30 years ago. This expected figure could lead to an estimated economic loss of more than 2 trillion USD in global GDP, which is more than 2% of global GPD in 2019.
In particular, in the first 10 months of 2020, Asia-Pacific was the region with the highest decline in international arrivals with a decrease of 82%. Southeast Asia decreased 78% and Northeast Asia decreased more than 88% of international arrivals. This is quite understandable because Asia-Pacific is the region first influenced by Covid-19 and Asian countries are very cautious in their policies of reopening borders for international tourism. From April 2020 to October 2020, the Asia-Pacific region continuously decreased more than 95% of international arrivals due to the policies of closing borders of countries in the region. As of early November 2020, 53% of destinations in the region were still closed to international tourists.
Regions of Europe had relatively disparity and fluctuating reductions. In the two summer months (July 2020 and August 2020), a slight rebound improved the previous decline from 88% in June to 67% in August. International arrivals in Europe fell back sharply with 72% in September and 76% in October. However, Europe is the region with the most eased travel restriction policies in the world. By the end of October 2020, 91% of destinations in Europe had relaxed travel restrictions mainly among the Schengen Member States. Europe saw a 68% decline in international arrivals from January to October 2020.
Some other regions such as the Middle East, America and Africa have a decrease of 69%, 68% and 73% respectively in the first 10 months of 2020.
Expectations from experts of the recovery of international tourism
In October 2020, UNWTO conducted a global survey among its UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and the expected time of recovery. According to the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts, the main factors that limit the recovery of international tourism are travel restrictions, slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. The survey showed that the third quarter of 2021 is the time when many experts expected that international tourism would begin to recover. However, most experts from Asia – Pacific expected that by 2022, international tourism in this area would recover. According to the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts, international tourism would not be able to recover the number of arrivals to the pre-pandemic level until 2023.
Besides, the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts believed that domestic tourism would partially drive the recovery of some destinations, but cannot compensate for the drop in international demand. Asia-Pacific is the region with the most positive indicator of domestic tourism’s ability to drive the recovery with a rate of 47%.
UNWTO forward-looking recovery scenarios
In May 2020, UNWTO issued 3 scenarios for international tourism recovery. And with the figures in the last quarter of 2020, the expected decrease in international arrivals from 70% to 75% in the whole year of 2020 was between scenarios 2 and 3. In scenario 2, international tourism is expected to recover by the end of 2023 and in scenario 3, international tourism is expected to recover by the end of 2024.
The UNWTO hopes the worldwide rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine would enhance tourist confidence and help countries ease or lift travel restrictions. So, international tourism would be gradually normalized and gradually recover in about 3 to 4 years.