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Pandemic could cost global tourism $2 trillion, UN reports

November 29, 2021

Tourism has rebounded compared to 2020, but still remains below 2019 levels. Uneven vaccination rates and new strains could hinder this recovery.

International passengers walk through arrivals are at Heathrow International airport, carrying suitcases and wearing facemasks.
Tourism has rebounded compared to 2020.Image: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic could cost global tourism $2 trillion (€1.77 trillion) in lost revenue, according to a United Nations World Tourism Oranization (UNWTO) report published on Monday. The same amount was lost in 2020.

Although the UNWTO registered a 58% increase in tourist arrivals in July-September of this year compared to the same period in 2020, this remained 64% below 2019 levels. In August and September arrivals were at 63% lower than 2019, which is the highest monthly result since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

An illustration of Planet Earth wearing a facemask and sitting in a person's palm.
A number of countries have maintained strict limitations on international travel.Image: Waldemar Thaut/Zoonar/picture alliance

Where has tourism recovered?

While Europe and the Americas showed a relative increase during the third quarter of 2021, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific were down by as much as 95% when compared with 2019. A number of countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and China, have pursued a "zero-COVID" policy and put strict limits on international travel.

Among the larger destinations, Croatia, Mexico and Turkey showed the strongest recovery in the period of July to September. The Caribbean had the highest results of any of the subregions defined by the UNWTO, with arrivals up 55% compared to 2020.

Tourists 'confused'

According to the UNTWO report, "uneven vaccination rates around the world and new COVID-19 strains could impact the already slow and fragile recovery." Fears over the new omicron variant have prompted new travel restrictions in some countries.

It added that spikes in oil prices and the disruption of global supply chains could also have an effect on travel demand.

Passengers outside Ben Gurion International airport.
Pololikashvili urged countries to harmonise their restrictions.Image: Debbie Hill/UPI Photo/Newscom/picture alliance

UNWTO head Zurab Pololikashvili urged countries to harmonise their restrictions as tourists are "confused and don't know how to travel."

"It's a very unpredictable situation."

While this is not the first time the outbreak of disease has taken its toll on international tourism, the coronavirus pandemic has been unique in its global spread.

"It's a historical crisis in the tourism industry but again tourism has the power to recover quite fast," said Pololikashvili.

sdi/aw (AFP, Reuters)