Global tourism records small uptick but still way below pre-pandemic levels

The pandemic still weighed heavily on global tourism in 2021 which only saw a 4 per cent upturn compared to 2020.

International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72 per cent below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to preliminary estimates by UNWTO. This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, when international arrivals decreased by 73 per cent.

Rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions resulted in a moderate rebound during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62 per cent in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels.

In Asia and the Pacific arrivals were still 65 per cent below 2020 levels and 94 per cent when compared to pre-pandemic values. Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 ( up 19% and 17% respectively), but still both 63 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals (61%) see better prospects for 2022. While 58 per cent expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter, 42 per cent point to a potential rebound only in 2023. A majority of experts (64%) now expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45 per cent in the September survey.

However, the surge of the Omicron variant is set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 while many destinations still have their borders completely closed, mostly in Asia and the Pacific.