International tourism faces its worst crisis since records began, with up to 1.1bn fewer people taking trips globally in 2020. The scale of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact is outlined in a report by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which predicts a decline in international arrivals of between 58% and 80% this year.
This is due to widespread travel restrictions and the closure of airports and borders worldwide. The prediction of a 58% decline is based on the gradual reopening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July; the 80% figure is based on early December.
Globally, the crisis threatens the livelihood of up to 120 million people who directly rely on tourism for work – and millions more indirectly – while representing a financial loss in export revenues from tourism of between £736bn and £971bn. The predictions are based on UNWTO figures for the first three months of this year, which show a worldwide decline in international arrivals of 22%. Following the start of the lockdown in many countries, arrivals dropped by 57% for March alone.
“The world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis,” Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO secretary general said. “Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy.”
The figures are in line with the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) predictions of more than 100m job losses in the travel and tourism sector, with three quarters of these in G20 countries.
“This is a staggering and deeply worrying change in such a short time,” said Gloria Guevara, CEO of WTTC. “In just April alone, our research shows an increase of 25m in the number of job losses in travel and tourism. The whole cycle of tourism is being wiped out by the pandemic. Travel and tourism is the backbone of the global economy. Without it, global economies will struggle to recover in any meaningful way and hundreds of millions of people will suffer enormous financial and mental damage for years to come.”
The impact will vary in different regions at different times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first. According to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, some recovery is expected in the final quarter of 2020 and into early 2021, while domestic tourism is expected to recover faster than the demand for international travel.
In the UK, Visit Britain has forecast a decline in inbound tourist numbers of 54% for 2020, which equates to 21.9m fewer arrivals and a loss of £15.1bn in tourist revenue. This scenario assumes a recovery of international arrivals from August, and is subject to revision as the situation develops. In terms of domestic tourism in the UK, if the sector starts to open up in June, the annual loss will be an estimated £22.1bn (£14.1bn from day trips and £7.9bn from overnights).
Global airline revenues are forecast to drop by more than half – $314bn (£249bn) – in 2020, according to the latest estimates by the International Air Transport Association’s (Iata). This is almost three times worse than its “worst-case scenario” in March.
Last month, the WTTC outlined what the “new normal” could look like as lockdown rules and travel restrictions are eased, pre-vaccine. New protocols and standards are being mapped out in collaboration with various associations – among them the UNWTO, the World Health Organization, European Travel Commission, and Iata – including global hygiene standards and intensive cleaning regimes in hotels, aircraft and cruise ships.
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