The first 2022 report of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols, have all helped release pent up demand. International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62 pc in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels.
According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65 pc below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in Covid-19 cases is yet to be seen.
Different speeds of recovery
The UNWTO says that the pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence. It says that while Europe and the United States recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020, with growths of 19 pc and 17 pc respectively, but still both 63 pc below pre-pandemic levels.
Of the sub-regions, the Caribbean performed the best, with a 63 pc growth over 2020 and barely 37 pc below the pre-pandemic level. Some of the destinations within the Caribbean were close to, or even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Other sub-regions posting strong results were the Southern Mediterranean Europe and Central America that grew 57 pc and 54 pc, while North America grew 17 pc and Central Eastern Europe rose 18 pc above 2020 levels.
Other regions continued to face difficulty as Africa grew barely by 12 pc, remaining 74 pc below 2019 and the Middle East saw arrivals drop by 24 pc in 2021 over 2020 and 79 pc below the pre-pandemic levels. Asia-Pacific, the largest source market for most destinations around the world, was amongst the worst performers, staying 65 pc below 2020 and 94 pc below pre-pandemic levels as most destinations remain closed to non-essential travel.
Increased tourism spending
The economic contribution of tourism in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at USD 1.9 trillion, above the USD 1.6 trillion in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of USD 3.5 trillion. Export revenues from international tourism could exceed USD 700 billion in 2021, a small improvement over 2020 due to higher spending per trip, but less than half the USD 1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.
Average receipts per arrival are estimated to reach USD 1,500 in 2021, up from USD 1,300 in 2020. This is due to large pent-up savings and longer lengths of stay, as well as higher transport and accommodation prices. France and Belgium reported comparatively smaller declines in tourism expenditure with drops of 37 pc and 28 pc, respectively over 2019. Saudi Arabia (-27 pc) and Qatar (-2 pc) also posted somewhat better results in 2021.
Outlook for 2022
According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, about 61 pc tourism professionals see better prospects for 2022. While 58 pc expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter, 42 pc point to a potential rebound only in 2023. A majority of experts, 64 pc, now expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45 pc in the September survey.
The UNWTO Confidence Index shows a slight decline in January-April 2022. A rapid and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more coordination and clearer information on travel protocols, are the main factors identified by experts for the effective recovery of international tourism. UNWTO scenarios indicate that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30 pc to 78 pc in 2022 compared to 2021. However, this would still be 50 pc to 63 pc below pre-pandemic levels.