Tourism downturn to deliver US$4 trillion blow to global economy

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tourism could result in a more than US$4 trillion loss to the global economy, according to a new UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report.

The estimate is based on losses caused by the pandemic’s direct impact on tourism and the ripple effect on related sectors, and is worse than previously expected.

Last July, UN trade and development body UNCTAD estimated that the standstill in international tourism would cost the global economy between US$1.2 trillion and US$3.3 trillion.

The steep drop in tourist arrivals worldwide in 2020 resulted in a US$2.4 trillion economic hit, the report said, and a similar figure is expected this year depending on the uptake in COVID-19 vaccines.

“The world needs a global vaccination effort that will protect workers, mitigate adverse social effects and make strategic decisions regarding tourism, taking potential structural changes into account,” said Isabelle Durant, the UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General.

International tourist arrivals declined by about 1 billion, or 73 per cent, last year, while in the first quarter of 2021 the drop was around 88 per cent, the report said.

Developing countries have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact on tourism, with estimated reductions in arrivals of between 60 per cent and 80 per cent.

“Tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries, many of which are highly dependent on international tourism,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

It is expected that tourism will recover faster in countries with high vaccination rates, such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

However, international tourist arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 or later, due to barriers such as travel restrictions, slow containment of the virus, low traveller confidence and a poor economic environment.

While a tourism rebound is anticipated in the second half of this year, the report expects a loss of between US$1.7 trillion and US$2.4 trillion in 2021.

The most pessimistic scenario for the tourism sector this year reflected a 75 per cent reduction in international arrivals.

This scenario sees a drop in global tourist receipts of nearly US$950 billion, which would cause a loss in real GDP of US$2.4 trillion.

A second scenario reflects a 63 per cent reduction in international tourist arrivals.

The third considers varying rates of domestic and regional tourism. It assumes a 75 per cent reduction in tourism in countries where vaccine rates are low, and 37 per cent reduction in countries with relatively high vaccination levels, mainly developed countries and some smaller economies.