UNWTO: International tourism plunges 70% as travel restrictions impact all regions

Restrictions on travel introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hit global tourism hard, with the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) showing a 70% fall in international arrivals for the first eight months of 2020.

According to the new UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international arrivals plunged 81% in July and 79% in August, traditionally the two busiest months of the year and the peak of the Northern Hemisphere summer season. The drop until August represents 700 million fewer arrivals compared to the same period in 2019 and translates into a loss of US$ 730 billion in export revenues from international tourism. This is more than eight times the loss experienced on the back of the 2009 global economic and financial crisis.

“This unprecedented decline is having dramatic social and economic consequences, and puts millions of jobs and businesses at risk,” warned UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

Despite such large declines, this represents a relative improvement over the 90% or greater decreases of the previous months, as some destinations started to reopen to international tourism, mostly in the European Union.

Asia and the Pacific, the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic, saw a 79% decrease in arrivals in January-August 2020. Africa and the Middle East both recorded a 69% drop this eight-month period, while Europe saw a 68% decline and the Americas 65%.

Data on international tourism expenditure continues to reflect very weak demand for outbound travel, though in several large markets such as the United States, Germany and Italy there is a small uptick in spending in the months of July and August.

Demand for travel remains largely subdued due to the ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic and

low confidence. Based on the latest trends, UNWTO expects an overall drop close to 70% for the whole of 2020.

Rebound expected by Q3 2021

UNWTO’s Panel of Experts foresees a rebound in international tourism in 2021, mostly in the third quarter of 2021. However, around 20% of experts suggest the rebound will not occur until 2022. Travel restrictions are seen as the main barrier standing in the way of the recovery of international tourism, along with slow virus containment and low consumer confidence.