International tourism on major rebound, says UNWTO

International tourism on major rebound, says UNWTO

MADRID — International tourism got a big boost in the first five months of 2022, says UNWTO, with almost 250 million international arrivals on the books.

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, this compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021, which means that the sector has recovered nearly half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

“The recovery of tourism has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

At the same time, Pololikashvili advises caution in light of the “economic headwinds and geopolitical challenges, which could impact the sector in the remainder of 2022 and beyond.”


EUROPE AND AMERICAS LEAD RECOVERY

Europe welcomed more than 4x as many international arrivals as in the first five months of 2021 (+350%), boosted by strong intra-regional demand and the removal of all travel restrictions in a growing number of countries. The region saw particularly robust performance in April (+458%), reflecting a busy Easter period.

In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled (+112%), however, the strong rebound is measured against weak results in 2021. Overall, arrivals remain 36% and 40% below 2019 levels in both regions, respectively.

Looking at subregions, several have recovered between 70% and 80% of their pre-pandemic levels, led by the Caribbean and Central America, followed by Southern Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe. Some destinations even surpassed 2019 levels, including U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, the Republic of Moldova, Albania, Honduras and Puerto Rico.


DEFYING MOUNTIN CHALLENGES

Strong demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer season is expected to consolidate these positive results, particularly as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions. As of July 22, 62 destinations (39 of which are in Europe) had no COVID-19-related restrictions in place, and an increasing number of destinations in Asia have started to ease theirs.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the overall reduction in international air capacity in 2022 will be limited to 20% to 25% of seats offered by airlines as compared to 2019. Such resilience is also reflected in hotel occupancy rates. Based on data from STR, global occupancy rates climbed to 66% in June 2022, from 43% in January.

However, stronger than expected demand has created significant operational and workforce challenges. In addition, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, as well as fears of an economic slowdown continue to pose a risk to recovery. The International Monetary Fund points to a global economic slowdown from. 6.1% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022, and then to 2.9% in 2023.


REGIONAL SCENARIOS FOR 2022

UNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Results depend on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, ongoing inflation including high energy prices and overall economic conditions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, as well as the health situation related to the pandemic. More recent challenges such as staff shortages, severe airport congestion and flight delays and cancellations could also impact international tourism numbers.

Scenarios by region show Europe and the Americas recording the best tourism results in 2022, while Asia and the Pacific is expected to lag behind due to more restrictive travel policies. International tourist arrivals in Europe could climb to 65% or 80% of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on various conditions, while in the Americas they could reach 63% to 76% of those levels.

In Africa and the Middle East, arrivals could reach about 50% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, while in Asia and the Pacific they would remain at 30% of 2019 levels in the best-case scenario due to stricter policies and restrictions.