International tourist arrivals plunged by 22% around the world in the first quarter of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and could fall as much as 80% for the year in a worst case scenario, according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57% following the start of a lockdown in many countries and widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. This translates into 67 million fewer international tourists up to March and US$80 billion in lost tourism revenue according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
The report issued on May 7 lays out three different scenarios forecasting declines in arrivals of between 58% and 78%, depending on the speed of containment of the virus and the duration of travel restrictions and border shutdowns.
International Tourism 2020 Scenarios
The scenarios are based on borders opening in early July, in early September and in early December.
Depending on when borders reopen and travel resumes, WTO says that the impact could translate into 850 million to 1.1 billion fewer international tourists; a loss of US$910 billion to US$1.2 trillion in export revenues
from tourism and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.
Prospects for the year have been down-graded several times since the outbreak and continue to be uncertain.
“This is by far the worst crisis that inter-national tourism has faced since records began (1950). The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first,” says the WTO report.
Experts see recovery in 2021
Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand according to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey. The majority expect to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021. Based on previous crises, leisure travel is expected to recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel.
The estimates regarding the recovery of international travel is more positive in Africa and the Middle East with most experts foreseeing recovery still in 2020.
Experts in the Americas are the least optimistic and least likely to believe in recovery in 2020, while in Europe and Asia the outlook is mixed, with half of the experts expecting to see recovery within this year.