UNWTO data presents a Covid-19 reality check

MADRID, 26 July 2021: The latest travel tourism update from the UNWTO paints a depressing picture as the data shows the biggest crisis in the history of tourism continues into a second year with no end in sight.

Between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85% below 2019 levels (or a 65% drop when compared with 2020), UNWTO data shows.

Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of COVID-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel. The only bright spot is the survival of domestic travel in many parts of the world.

The latest UNWTO data shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

However, the data did reveal a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82% (versus May 2019), after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.

UNWTO looks on the bright side of a depressing picture suggesting that the accelerating pace of vaccination worldwide, with the exception of Southeast Asian nations that are still dragging their feet to get citizens vaccine jabs, offers a lifeline for a return to normal for international tourism in 2022. 

“Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever-changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism,” says UNWTO secretary-general ZurabPololikashvili.

By regions, Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the largest decline with a 95% drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.

Europe (-85%) recorded the second-largest decline in arrivals, followed by the Middle East (-83%) and Africa (-81%).

The Americas (-72%) saw a comparatively smaller decrease. In June, the number of destinations with complete closure of borders decreased to 63, from 69 in February.

Of these, 33 were in Asia and the Pacific, while just seven were in Europe, the region with the fewest restrictions on travel currently in place.

Mixed outlook for rest of the year

International tourism is slowly picking up, though the recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to reimpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. However, vaccination programmes around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital Covid Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.

(Source: UNWTO)