The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism has lasted through 2021, with new data showing an 87% drop in international tourist arrivals in January compared to 2020. The outlook for the rest of the year remain cautious as the world Tourism Organization (UNWTO) continues to call for greater coordination of travel protocols between countries to ensure the safe restart of tourism and avoid another year of massive losses for the sector.
After a difficult end to 2020, global tourism suffered further setbacks earlier this year as countries tightened travel restrictions in response to new virus outbreaks. According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, all regions of the world continued to experience large drops in tourist arrivals during the first month of the year. Mandatory testing, quarantines, and in some cases the complete closure of borders, have hampered the resumption of international travel. Furthermore, the speed and distribution of the vaccination rollout have been slower than expected, further delaying the restart of tourism.
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “2020 was the worst year on record for tourism. The international community must take strong and urgent action to ensure a brighter 2021. Many millions of livelihoods and businesses depend on it. Better coordination between countries and harmonized travel and health protocols are essential to restore confidence in tourism and allow international travel to resume safely before the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere. "
Outlook for 2021
With 32% of all global destinations completely closed to international tourists at the beginning of February, UNWTO anticipates a challenging first months of 2021 for global tourism.
Based on current trends, UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to fall by around 85% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. This would represent a loss of some 260 million international arrivals compared to the pre-pandemic levels. Looking ahead, the UNWTO has outlined two scenarios for 2021, which consider a possible rebound in international travel in the second half of the year. These are based on a series of factors, including a significant lifting of travel restrictions, the success of vaccination programs or the introduction of harmonized protocols such as the Digital Green Certificate provided by the European Commission.
The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would translate into a 66% increase in international arrivals by 2021 compared to the historical lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below 2019 levels.