UNWTO reports upturn in global tourism in Q3

Uneven vaccinations, new strains could hurt fragile recovery
/ Paris
UNWTO reports upturn in global tourism in Q3

Tourists at Jumby Bay Island, Antigua (Photo Copyright: Jumby Bay Island - an Oetker Collection Hotel)

Global tourism in third quarter of 2021 rebounds significantly during summer vacations of the northern hemisphere, notably in Europe, says report by United Nations World Tourism Organisation. It cautions, however, that recovery, though impressive as compared to 2020, remains fragile.
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International tourist arrivals, with overnight stays, across the world rose by a healthy 58 pc in the July-September 2021 period, when compared to the same quarter of 2020, says the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer released today.

UNWTO says that though the numbers remain significantly below those of 2019, they have grown dramatically from not only last year, but also from earlier this year. Europe was the best performer in the quarter, it says.

The UNWTO Barometer says that from the beginning of the year, worldwide international tourist arrivals stood 20 pc below those of 2020, but are a clear improvement over the performance in the first six months of the year, when the numbers for 2021 were 54 pc below those of 2020. In some sub regions – Southern and Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, North and Central America – arrivals actually rose above 2020 levels in the first nine months of 2021.

The most promising news emerged from some islands in the Caribbean and South Asia, together with a few small destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe, that reported their best performance in Q3 2021. In many of these destinations, the arrivals were either close to pre-pandemic or even higher.

Nonetheless, overall arrivals are still 76 pc below pre-pandemic levels with uneven performances among world regions.

The UNWTO says that growth in demand was driven by increased traveller confidence amid rapid progress on vaccinations and the easing of entry restrictions in many destinations. In Europe, the EU Digital Covid Certificate has helped facilitate free movement within the European Union, releasing large-pent up demand after many months of restricted travel. Arrivals were only 8 pc below the same period of 2020, though still 69 pc below 2019. The Americas recorded the strongest inbound results in January-September, with arrivals up 1 pc compared to 2020, but still 65 pc below 2019 levels. The Caribbean recorded the strongest results by subregion with arrivals up 55 pc compared to the same period in 2020, though still 38 pc below 2019.

Slow and uneven pace of recovery

The UNWTO says that though there has been a global improvement in numbers, the pace of recovery remains uneven across the global regions. This is mainly due to different restrictions on mobility across the world as well as vaccinations, which are directly linked to travellers’ confidence. While Europe and the Americas enjoyed a relative improvement during the third quarter of 2021, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific were down 95 pc compared to 2019 as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel. Africa and the Middle East recorded 74 pc and 81 pc drops respectively in the third quarter of 2021 as compared to 2019. Among the larger destinations, Croatia (-19 pc), Mexico (-20 pc) and Turkey (-35 pc) posted the best results in July-September 2021, according to information currently available.

With the growth in tourists’ numbers, the receipts of the sector have also grown similarly. Mexico was the best performer here as its tourism revenues reached the same levels as in 2019, Turkey (-20 pc), France (-27 pc) and Germany (-37 pc) posted comparatively smaller declines from earlier in the year. In outbound travel, results were also moderately better, with France and Germany reporting -28 pc and -33 pc respectively in international tourism expenditure during the third quarter.

Fragile recovery, dependent on evolution of pandemic

Despite the positive numbers emanating from various parts of the world, the UNWTO cautions that the recovery remains fragile and is vulnerable to the evolution of the pandemic and the response of various governments to this evolution. It goes on to say that despite recent improvements, uneven vaccination rates around the world and new Covid-19 strains could impact the already slow and fragile recovery. The economic strain caused by the pandemic could also weigh on travel demand, aggravated by the recent spike in oil prices and disruption of supply chains.

According to the latest UNWTO data, international tourist arrivals are expected to remain 70-75 pc below 2019 levels in 2021, a similar decline as in 2020. The tourism economy would thus continue to be highly impacted. Tourism’s direct gross domestic product could lose another USD 2 trillion, the same as in 2020, while exports from tourism are estimated to stay at USD 700-800 million, significantly below the USD 1.7 trillion registered in 2019.

The safe resumption of international tourism will continue to largely depend on a coordinated response among countries in terms of travel restrictions, harmonised safety and hygiene protocols and effective communication to help restore consumer confidence, particularly at a moment where cases are surging in some regions.

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