Some UNWTO experts say rebound won’t come until 2022

International tourist numbers down 65% in first half of 2020, says UNWTO

MADRID — The month of June, typically a high-traffic time for global travel, saw international tourist arrivals plunge 93% compared to 2019, says UNWTO.

According to the new issue of the World Tourism Barometer from the United Nations specialized agency, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a severe impact on the travel & tourism sector, with international tourist arrivals plummeting 65% during the first half of 2020. This, says UNWTO, represents an “unprecedented decrease” following the closure of borders and introduction of travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.

The massive drop in international travel demand from January to June 2020 has translated into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about US$460 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This, says UNWTO, is around five times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded in 2009 amid the global economic and financial crisis.

Despite the gradual reopening of many destinations since the second half of May (UNWTO reports that, as of early September, 53% of destinations has eased travel restrictions), the anticipated improvement in international tourism numbers during the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere never materialized.

Europe was the second-hardest hit of all global regions, with a 66% decline in tourist arrivals in the first half of 2020. The Americas (-55%), Africa and the Middle East (both -57%) also suffered greatly. However, Asia and the Pacific, the first region to feel the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, was the hardest hit, with a 72% fall in tourists for the six-month period.

At the sub-regional level, North-East Asia (-83%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (-72%) suffered the largest declines. All world regions and sub-regions recorded declines of more than 50% in arrivals in January-June 2020.

Looking ahead, UNWTO says it seems likely that reduced travel demand and consumer confidence will continue to impact results for the rest of 2020. In May, the agency outlined three possible scenarios, pointing to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals this year. Current trends through August point to a drop in demand closer to 70% (Scenario 2).

It’s anticipated that a return to 2019 levels in terms of tourist arrivals will take between two to four years.