The coronavirus pandemic caused a 22 per cent decline in international tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2020, according to the latest data from UNWTO. The crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60 and 80 per cent compared to 2019.
This puts millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to reverse the progress achieved towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “Tourism has been hard hit, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy.”
According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, available data reported by destinations point to a 22 percent decline in arrivals in the first three months of the year.
It noted that arrivals in March fell sharply by 57 per cent after the start of a lockdown in many countries, as well as the widespread implementation of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and around $80 billion in revenues (exports from tourism).
Although Asia and the Pacific show the highest impact in relative and absolute terms (-33 million arrivals), the impact in Europe, though lower in percentage, is quite high in volume (-22 million). The statement states that prospects for the year have been downgraded several times since the outbreak and uncertainty continues to dominate.
Current scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals of 58 to 78 per cent for the year.
These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and the shutdown of borders. The following scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders.
- Scenario 1 (-58 per cent) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July
- Scenario 2 (-70 per cent) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early September
- Scenario 3 (-78 per cent) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions only in early December
International tourist arrivals in 2020: three scenarios (YoY monthly change, %)
Under these scenarios, the impact of the loss of demand in international travel could translate into a loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists, a loss of $910-billion to $1.2-trillion in export revenues from tourism and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.
Experts see recovery in 2021
Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand according to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey. The majority expects to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021.
Based on past crises, leisure travel is expected to recover faster than business travel, especially for visiting friends and relatives. The resumption of foreign travel sentiments are more hopeful in Africa and the Middle East with most analysts expecting to recover by 2020.
Experts in the Americas are the least positive, and the least likely to believe in recovery in 2020, although the outlook is mixed in Europe and Asia, with half of the experts expecting recovery in this year.