According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, released a day before World Tourism Day 2022, international tourist arrivals almost tripled in January to July 2022 were up 172 pc compared to the same period of 2021. The UNWTO report says that with this, the global tourism sector has reached nearly 60 pc of the pre-pandemic levels, adding that the steady recovery reflected strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date with 86 countries having removed all Covid-19 related restrictions as of September 19, 2022.
“Tourism continues to recover steadily, yet several challenges remain, from geopolitical to economic. The sector is bringing back hope and opportunity for people everywhere. Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili on the latest report.
The UNWTO says that an estimated 474 million tourists travelled internationally over the period, compared to the 175 million in the same months of 2021. The recovery specially accelerated as summer approached since an estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, over twice the numbers seen in the same two months last year. The UNWTO report says that June and July represented 44 pc of the total arrivals recorded in the first seven months of 2022.
Europe leads recovery, Middle East close behind
Of the various regions in the world, Europe was the biggest beneficiary in terms of tourist arrivals in June and July as it welcomed 309 million of these arrivals, accounting for 65 pc of the total. But over the entire seven months, Middle East, too, saw a big bump in foreign visitor numbers, says the report. In terms of overall recovery, Middle East has seen its Jan-July numbers reach 76 pc of the 2019 levels, just ahead of Europe, which is now at 74 pc of the pre-pandemic numbers.
The UNWTO adds that Europe welcomed almost three times as many international arrivals as in the first seven months of 2021, as the numbers were up 190 pc, with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. The region saw particularly robust performance in June, which was barely 21 pc off the 2019 number and July even better closing the gap to just 16 pc, reflecting a busy summer period.
The UNWTO says that lifting of travel restrictions in a large number of destinations also fuelled these results since 44 countries in Europe had no Covid-19 related restrictions as of September 19.
On the other hand, the Middle East saw international arrivals grow almost four times year-on-year in January-July 2022, at 287 pc higher. In July, it actually beat the 2019 levels, surpassing by 3 pc, boosted by the extraordinary results posted by Saudi Arabia which saw a growth of 121 pc, thanks to a very successful Hajj pilgrimage.
The Americas, with 103 pc and Africa with 171 pc also recorded strong growth in January-July 2022 compared to 2021, reaching 65 pc and 60 pc of 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific were more modest in comparison, yet growing by an impressive 165 pc, though the region remains 86 pc below 2019 levels, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel.
Sub-regions and destinations
Several sub-regions reached 70 pc to 85 pc of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-July 2022. Southern Mediterranean Europe, barely 15 pc off the 2019 peak, the Caribbean about 18 pc behind and Central America 20 pc below showed the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels, says the UNWTO report. Western Europe with 26 pc and Northern Europe 27 pc lesser traffic than 2019 also posted strong results. In July arrivals came close to pre-pandemic levels in the Caribbean, which was at 95 pc of 2019 levels, Southern and Mediterranean Europe at 94 pc and Central America at 92 pc of the pre-pandemic levels.
Among destinations reporting data on international arrivals in the first five to seven months of 2022, those exceeding pre-pandemic levels were: the US Virgin Islands, up 32 pc over 2019, Albania 19 pc, Saint Maarten 15 pc, Ethiopia and Honduras, both up 13 pc, Andorra 10 pc, Puerto Rico 7 pc, United Arab Emirates and Dominican Republic both 3 pc and San Marino and El Salvador which were both up 1 pc.
The UNWTO says that the ongoing recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets. Expenditure from France climbed to about 88 pc of Jan-July 2019 level while spending from Germany rose to 86 pc. International tourism spending stood at 77 pc in Italy and 74 pc of pre-pandemic numbers in the United States.
Robust performance was also recorded in international passenger air traffic, with a 234 pc increase in January-July 2022, which were still 45 pc below 2019 levels and a recovery of some 70 pc of pre-pandemic traffic levels in July, according to IATA.
Prospects for the remainder of the year are cautiously optimistic. Although above-average performance is expected, tourism experts rated the period September-December 2022 with a score of 111, below the 125 score of the previous four months, showing a downgrade in confidence levels. Almost half of experts (47 pc) see positive prospects for the period September-December 2022, while 24 pc expect no particular change and 28 pc consider it could be worse. Experts also seem confident about 2023, as 65 pc see better tourism performance than in 2022.