Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in tourists travelling in 2021, compared with 2020 (415 million versus 400 million tourists).
This was mainly due to an uptick in domestic travel. International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were, however, still 72% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to preliminary estimates by UNWTO.
This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism.
The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border co-ordination 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.
According to limited data, 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.
Slow and uneven recovery
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 with 2020 (up 19% and 17% respectively) but still both 63% below pre-pandemic levels.
Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 compared with 2020, though this is still 74% below 2019.
Increased tourism spending
The economic contribution of tourism globally in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at US$1.9 trillion, above the US$1.6 trillion recorded in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic US$3.5 trillion.
Outlook for 2022
According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals (61%) see better prospects for 2022. While 58% expect a rebound in 2022 (mostly during the third quarter), 42% pointed to a potential rebound only in 2023. A majority of experts (64%) now expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later, up from 45% in the September survey.
The UNWTO Confidence Index showed a slight decline in January-April 2022. A rapid and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more co-ordination and clearer information on travel protocols, are the main factors identified by experts for the effective recovery of international tourism.