2020 was a tough year for many businesses. Some of the worst impacts were seen in tourism. Travel-based businesses shut down wholesale. Millions of jobs were lost. With the start of vaccinations in 2021, finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Tourism is gradually reopening. Here is a look at the near future of international leisure travel.
Widespread travel restrictions caused an unprecedented decline in international tourism in 2020. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recorded that cross-border tourism plummeted by 74%. Tourist arrivals in 2020 were 1.1 billion less than in 2019. This impact far surpassed the previous worst decline from 2008 to 2009. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, tourist arrivals fell by 37 million. The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer says that the resulting loss in 2020 will be 11 times worse than in 2009. It may amount to $1.3 trillion. The Asia Pacific has been the worst hit of all world regions, where international arrivals plunged by 84%. Africa and the Middle East both recorded a 75% decline. Despite a short-lived revival in summer, Europe suffered a 70% fall. North America witnessed 69% fewer international arrivals.
Since February 2021, over 50 countries have reopened their borders to international travelers. Mali, Nepal, Cuba, Belarus, Morocco, Mexico, and Bulgaria are among these. Cyprus, Iceland, Romania, and Seychelles are set to reopen their borders soon. Many more countries are planning to reopen for vaccinated international arrivals. Russia will welcome overseas travelers again once its national vaccine drive is successfully rolled out. Tourism and hospitality employees are gradually going back to their jobs. Many of these are foreign migrants who send money online to their home countries as remittances.
Even though many international borders are open again, skepticism is holding back tourists. A January 2021 survey by the UNWTO on the prospects of revival indicates uncertainty. Experts are divided in their opinions. 45% of the respondents expect tourism to rebound by 2022. 25% expect 2021 to be similar to 2020 in terms of tourism volumes. 30% fear that the state of international tourism may worsen further. The UNWTO estimates that it could take the industry another 2-4 years to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
The OECD has implemented key policy changes to revive international travel. The new measures are meant to overcome the short-term crisis. They are also aimed to make the industry more resilient to similar threats in the future. Countries like Canada, UK, the US, France, and Australia are already on board. Others are gradually coming to terms with the need to build sustainable inter-border and intra-border tourism frameworks.
2 of the key policy priorities are to restore traveler confidence and support tourism businesses. These objectives will be achieved by providing clear information to travelers and businesses. Reducing uncertainty is important. The policies suggest flexible solutions for improving the industry’s preparedness and response capacity. The OECD emphasizes the need for coordinated action among governments and within the private sector. It is an important step towards reviving global tourism.
Going back to work
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is optimistic about the revival of the leisure travel industry. He expects tourism to regain its importance as a provider of jobs and an economic engine. The role of tourism in the economies of many developing nations is central. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicts that more than 100 million jobs in tourism and support businesses will be regained by late 2021. By the end of 2022, these will expand to 175 million.
COVID-19 vaccine drives are underway in many countries. Travel restrictions are already being relaxed. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili expresses cautious optimism for tourism in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis is far from over. Safer international travel can help slowly restore traveler confidence. Vaccine certificates improved testing, and better tracing will speed up international tourism recovery. With this revival, the UNWTO predicts rising demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities.
Hemant G is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency. When he’s not writing, he loves to travel, scuba dive, and watch documentaries.