The latest report by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) on the health of global tourism industry says that international tourism recovered to 63 pc of its 2019 level in the first nine months of the current year as over 700 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September, more than double or 133 pc over the number recorded for the same period in 2021.
Boosted by the strong recovery, UNWTO predicts that the global tourism is now on course to reach 65 pc of its pre-pandemic levels this year, in line with its earlier predictions. Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations.
According to a press statement by UNWTO, highlighting the speed at which the sector has recovered from the worst crisis in its history, the latest World Tourism Barometer from UNWTO reveals that monthly arrivals were 64 pc below 2019 levels in January 2022 and the gap had been cut dramatically to just 27 pc by September. The numbers were boosted by a specially good summer as an estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50 pc of the nine-month total.
Europe continues to lead global recovery
The report says that Europe has continued to stay ahead on the road to recovery as the region welcomed 477 million international arrivals in January-September 2022, about 68 pc of the world total, hitting 81 pc of its pre-pandemic levels. The number was also more than double that of 2021 or 126 pc with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. Europe saw a particularly robust performance in Q3, when arrivals reached almost 90 pc of 2019 levels.
Another region that is booming is the Middle East that saw international arrivals more than triple or 225 pc year on year in January-September 2022, climbing to 77 pc of pre-pandemic levels. Africa, with 166 pc and the Americas with 106 pc also recorded strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63 pc and 66 pc of 2019 levels, respectively. In Asia and the Pacific, with growth of 230 pc, arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83 pc below 2019 levels, mainly because China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.
Arrivals and receipts at – or above – pre-pandemic levels
The UNWTO report says that several subregions reached 80 pc to 90 pc of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022. Western Europe 88 pc and Southern Mediterranean Europe 86 pc saw the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. The Caribbean and Central America, both 82 pc and Northern Europe 81 pc also recorded strong results. The UNWTO adds that destinations reporting arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September include Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.
Indicating that the recovery was accelerating, in the month of September arrivals surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East that stood at 103 pc over 2019 and the Caribbean at 101 pc and came close in Central America, with 93 pc, Northern Europe at 91 pc and Southern and Mediterranean Europe at 90 pc of the 2019 level.
In sign of travellers spending more money now than in 2019, the UNWTO says that some destinations recorded notable increases in international tourism receipts in the first seven to nine months of 2022, including Serbia, Romania, Türkiye, Latvia, Portugal, Pakistan, Mexico, Morocco and France. The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France where expenditure reached 92 pc of 2019 level through September. Other markets reporting strong spending in the first six to nine months of 2022 were Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia.
Strong demand for air travel and hotel accommodation
The robust recovery of tourism is also reflected in various industry indicators such as air capacity and hotel metrics, as recorded in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. Air seat capacity on international routes, measured in available seat-kilometres or ASKs, in January-August reached 62 pc of 2019 levels, with Europe, 78 pc, and the Americas, 76 pc, posting the strongest results. Worldwide domestic capacity rose to 86 pc of 2019 levels, with the Middle East at 99 pc virtually achieving pre-pandemic levels as per IATA.
Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66 pc in September 2022, from 43 pc in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels at 77 pc in September 2022, following rates of 74 pc in July and August, while the Americas were at 66 pc, the Middle East at 63 pc and Africa at 61 pc.
Cautious optimism for the months ahead
The challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, aggravated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in Q4 and into 2023. The latest survey among the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows a downgrade in confidence levels for the last four months of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism. Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the recovery pace, export revenues from tourism could reach USD 1.2 to 1.3 trillion in 2022, a 60-70 pc increase over 2021, or 70-80 pc of the USD 1.8 trillion recorded in 2019.