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2020 - Worst Year in Tourism
(L)Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO; (R) International tourists waiting for their flight
Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74% according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of USD 1.3 trillion in export revenues - more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The crisis has put between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.
Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, many countries are now reintroducing stricter travel restrictions. These include mandatory testing, quarantines and in some cases a complete closure of borders, all weighing on the resumption of international travel. At the same time, the gradual rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is expected to help restore consumer confidence, contribute to the easing travel restrictions and slowly normalize travel during the year ahead.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over. The harmonization, coordination and digitalization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow.”
Recovery outlook remains cautious
The latest UNWTO Panel of Experts survey shows a mixed outlook for 2021. Almost half of respondents (45%) envisaged better prospects for 2021 compared to last year, while 25% expect a similar performance and 30% foresee a worsening of results in 2021.
The overall prospects of a rebound in 2021 seem to have worsened. 50% of respondents now expect a rebound to occur only in 2022 as compared to 21% in October 2020. The remaining half of respondents still see a potential rebound in 2021. As and when tourism does restart, the UNWTO Panel of Experts foresee growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences gaining increasing interest.
Looking further ahead, most experts do not to see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41% expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later. UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 indicate that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.
All world regions affected
Asia and the Pacific (-84%) - the first region to suffer the impact of the pandemic and the one with the highest level of travel restrictions currently in place - recorded the largest decrease in arrivals in 2020 (300 million fewer). The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% decline.
Europe recorded a 70% decrease in arrivals, despite a small and short-lived revival in the summer of 2020. The region suffered the largest drop in absolute terms, with over 500 million fewer international tourists in 2020. The Americas saw a 69% decrease in international arrivals, following somewhat better results in the last quarter of the year.
Global Tourism to Explore Safe Travel
||(L) Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO; (R) Harry Theocharis, Chairman, The Technical Group
The Global Tourism Crisis Committee has met for the first time in 2021. Organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the cross-sector body met in Madrid during the 113th session of the UNWTO Executive Council to advance solid plans to restart tourism. Key outputs from the meeting focused on the integration of vaccines into a harmonized approach to safe travel and launching a coordinated effort to boost confidence in the sector.
With countries around the world now rolling out vaccines against the COVID-19 virus, the Committee noted that this opens a critical window in the fight against the pandemic and to promote the safe resumption of international travel. Members highlighted the importance of stepping up coordination, within the framework of the International Health Regulations, of vaccination certificates to ensure the implementation of common, harmonized digital related travel principles, protocols and documents. This would be in line with the work being carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has reported at potential applications of digital technology to enable safe international travel and facilitate arrivals and departures.
Harmonized plans and protocols the priority
The Committee’s own Technical Group, chaired by Greece, alongside a dedicated interagency group drawing on diverse parts of the United Nations system and international organizations, are working to ensure measures are implemented, including by governments, to foster their application at every level of tourism. The Technical Group Chairman Harry Theocharis provided his latest update, showing how concrete steps have been taken to guarantee a harmonized plan of action.
UNWTO Secretary-General Pololikashvili said: “The rollout of vaccines is a step in the right direction, but the restart of tourism cannot wait. Vaccines must be part of a wider, coordinated approach that includes certificates and passes for safe cross-border travel. In the longer-term, we also need to restore confidence in tourism. The United for Travel campaign will help us achieve this, providing a clear and strong message that safe tourism is now possible.”
Testing for safe and seamless travel
Alongside the Technical Group’s work, the Committee called for support of the OECD’s own initiative aimed at developing a harmonized system of border controls. This would be developed in coordination with UNWTO as well as with WHO and, representing the civil aviation and the maritime sectors respectively, ICAO and the IMO.
The Crisis Committee members also called for firm actions to Support the standardization, digitalization and interoperability of testing protocols and certification systems. Members agreed that these should be based on commonly agreed evidence and risk-assessment indicators for origin and destination country or territory. The implementation of the CART Take-Off Guidance, developed by ICAO, was identified as an effective tool for advancing the harmonization of testing protocols and accelerating the establishment of Public Health Corridors.
Committee draws on top expertise and leadership
Since the start of the crisis, UNWTO has convened the Committee to bring together governments, public and private sector leaders and international organizations to form a united and efficient response. Addressing this latest meeting were Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission, OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría, and both tourism ministers from UNWTO’s Member States and leading representatives of from the civil aviation and cruise tourism sectors. Joining them and ensuring the United Nations speaks with one voice were Fang Liu, Secretary-General and Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of IMO.
The Council brings together more than 150 in-person participants alongside participants representing governments and destinations of every global region, to advance UNWTO’s Programme of Work and to vote for the Organization’s Secretary-General for 2022- 2025.
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