2020 was the worst year in the history of tourism, says UNWTO

MADRID — The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has officially declared 2020 as the worst year on record for global tourism, with destinations worldwide welcoming one billion fewer international arrivals than in the previous year.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, this collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of US$1.3 trillion in export revenues, more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The 2020 global health crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small- and medium-sized enterprises.

The latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of respondents (45%) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while 25% expect a similar performance and 30% foresee worsening results this year.

The overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened, with 50% of respondents now expecting a rebound to occur only in 2022, compared to 21% in October 2020. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound this year, though below the expectations shown in the October 2020 survey in which 79% expected recovery in 2021.

Looking further ahead, most experts do not anticipate a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41% expect a return to 2019 levels in 2024 or later. UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 indicate that it could take two and a half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.

Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic and the one with the highest level of travel restrictions currently in place, recorded the largest decrease in arrivals in 2020 at -84%, or 300 million fewer arrivals. The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% decline, while Europe saw a 70% decrease despite a small and short-lived revival in the summer of 2020. The region suffered the largest drop in absolute terms, with over 500 million fewer international tourists in 2020. The Americas saw a 69% decrease in international arrivals following somewhat better results in the last quarter of 2020.