UNTWO: 2022 will be better for international tourism

Published on : Thursday, February 3, 2022

The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer has reported a 4% rise in international tourist arrivals in 2021, and is predicting a much better 2022.

The Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols, have all helped release pent up demand.

International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62% in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels.

International arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen. 

Other key highlights from the report include:

Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021, compared to 2020 (415 million versus 400 million).

International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism, when international arrivals decreased by 73%.

The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence.

Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but still both 63% below pre-pandemic levels.

The Caribbean saw the best performance (+63% above 2020, though 37% below 2019), with some destinations coming close to, or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%) also enjoyed a significant rebound but remain 54% and 56% down on 2019 levels respectively.

North America (+17%) and Central Eastern Europe (+18%) also climbed above 2020 levels.

Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals though this is still 74% below 2019.

In the Middle East arrivals declined 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019.

In Asia and the Pacific arrivals were 65% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values, as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.

Looking forward to 2022, most tourism professionals see better prospects for 2022. While 58% expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter, 42% point to a potential rebound only in 2023.

A majority expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later.

Other predictions include:

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant are set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions for certain markets.

But vaccination roll-out remains uneven and many destinations still have their borders completely closed, mostly in Asia and the Pacific.

A challenging economic environment could put additional pressure on the effective recovery of international tourism, with the surge in oil prices, increase in inflation, potential rise in interest rates, high debt volumes and the continued disruption in supply chains.

The tourism recovery in many markets, mostly in Europe and the Americas, coupled with the widespread vaccination rollout and a major coordinated lifting of travel restrictions, could help to restore consumer confidence and accelerate the recovery of international tourism in 2022.

While international tourism bounces back, domestic tourism continues to drive recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations, particularly those with large domestic markets.

Domestic tourism and travel close to home are among the major travel trends that will continue shaping tourism in 2022.

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