“Blanket travel restrictions are simply counterproductive”: UNWTO

Global tourism saw slight gains in 2021 but remains far below 2019 levels

MADRID — It’s been a slow and uneven pace of recovery for travel & tourism, says UNWTO, with 2021 seeing a slight improvement in global tourism rates but below-level international tourist arrivals.

According to the first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, rising rates of vaccination combined with easing of travel restrictions have all helped release pent-up demand. Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021 compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million), however, overnight visitors were still 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019. This follows the worst year on record for tourism in 2020, when international arrivals decreased by 73%.

International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62% in both Q3 and Q4 compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels.



Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but both were still 63% below pre-pandemic levels.

By subregion, the Caribbean saw the best performance at +63% above 2020, though 37% below 2019. Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%) also saw a significant rebound but remain 54% and 56% down on 2019 levels, respectively.

North America (+17%) and Central Eastern Europe (+18%) also climbed above 2020 levels.

Meanwhile, Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 over 2020, though still 74% below 2019, and the Middle East arrivals declined 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019. In Asia Pacific, arrivals were still 6% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values.



According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals (61%) see better prospects for 2022. While 58% expect a rebound this year, mostly during Q3, 42% foresee a potential rebound only in 2023.

A majority of experts (64%) now expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45% in the September survey.

The UNWTO Confidence Index shows a slight decline in January-April 2022. A more widespread vaccination rollout, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions and more coordination of travel protocols are the main factors for an effective recovery of international tourism. UNWTO scenarios indicate that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30%, to 78% as compared to 2021. However, this is still 50%-63% below pre-pandemic levels.



The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant are expected to disrupt the global tourism recovery and affect traveller confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions. At the same time, an uneven vaccination rollout, mostly in Asia and the pacific, as well as a challenging economic environment (ie. surging oil prices, inflation, high debt volumes, etc.) could put additional pressure on effective recovery of international tourism.

According to UNWTO, domestic tourism will continue to drive recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations, particularly those with large domestic markets. Among the major travel trends for 2022 are open-air activities, nature-based products and rural tourism, all of which will continue shaping tourism this year.

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