How COVID-19 changed the world’s top tourist destinations: 10 key insights

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered unprecedented shutdowns globally. The tourism industry was the worst-hit sector during this period. Although the industry is slowly recovering, it is yet to fully be back on its feet.

According to an impact assessment report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourism saw stronger-than-expected growth in 2022 backed by pent-up demand and relaxation of travel restrictions in several countries.

Here are ten key insights from the UNWTO report:

1. International tourism recovered 63 percent of its pre-pandemic levels.

2. 900 million plus tourists travelled internationally in 2022. This is double the number compared to 2021. However, this number is still 37 percent lower compared to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

3. Europe recorded 585 million arrivals in 2022, reaching nearly 80 percent of its pre-pandemic levels. However, the world’s largest destination region still saw 21 percent fewer tourists compared to 2019.

4. The Middle East turned out to be an outperformer across regions in 2022 with 83 percent arrivals compared to pre-pandemic levels.

5. Both Africa and the Americas recovered about 65 percent of its pre-pandemic levels. However, stronger pandemic-related restrictions kept the recovery in Asia and the Pacific to just 23 percent.

6. The report expects the recovery in international tourism to continue in 2023 with Asia and the Pacific, in particular, benefitting from pent-up demand and opening up of markets.

7. But, 65 percent of experts believe international tourism will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 or later.

8. Closer-to-home travel is likely to pick up pace, according to the report, as challenging economic conditions force tourists to seek more bang for their buck.

9. International tourist arrivals could reach 80 percent to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, according to UNWTO’s scenarios for 2023.

10. However, there remain multiple challenges. Oil prices are nearing $100/bbl, thereby creating inflationary challenges. This and fears of a global recession are the biggest risks to the recovery of tourism. Additionally, continued uncertainty due to the Russia-Ukraine war and other geopolitical tensions, coupled with a shortage of workers, are further downside risks.

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