International tourism on track for full recovery


The Middle East is leading the global tourism recovery which is on track to returning to pre-pandemic levels, with twice as many people travelling during the first quarter of 2023 than in the same period of 2022, according to new data from UNWTO.

The Middle East saw the strongest performance as the only region exceeding 2019 arrivals (up 15%) and the first to recover pre-pandemic numbers in a full quarter.

Europe reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels, driven by strong intra-regional demand, while Africa reached 88% and the Americas about 85% of 2019 levels.

China’s late reopening hampered Asia and the Pacific, which reached 54% of pre-pandemic levels. But that upward trend is set to accelerate now that most destinations have re-opened.

“The start of the year has shown again tourism’s unique ability to bounce back,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

“In many places, we are close to or even above pre-pandemic levels of arrivals. However, we must remain alert to challenges ranging from geopolitical insecurity, staffing shortages, and the potential impact of the cost-of-living crisis on tourism, and we must ensure tourism’s return delivers on its responsibilities as a solution to the climate emergency and as a driver of inclusive development.”

International tourism receipts grew back to hit the US$1 trillion mark in 2022, growing 50% in real terms compared to 2021, driven by the rebound in international travel.

International visitor spending reached 64% of pre-pandemic levels (down 36% compared to 2019). By regions, Europe enjoyed the best results in 2022 with nearly US$550 billion in tourism receipts, or 87% of pre-pandemic levels. Africa recovered 75% of its pre-pandemic receipts, the Middle East 70% and the Americas 68%. Due to prolonged border shutdowns, Asian destinations earned about 28%.

The economic situation remains the main factor weighing on the effective recovery of international tourism in 2023, according to the UNWTO, with high inflation and rising oil prices translating into higher transport and accommodations costs.  As a result, tourists are expected to increasingly seek value for money and travel closer to home.