International tourism numbers dropped by 65% in the first half of 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Data released this week shows that international tourist arrivals in June had dropped 93% compared with June 2019. This is just a fraction of the total loss caused by countries around the world closing their borders and introducing travel restrictions in response to COVID-19.
The lockdowns introduced during the first half of the year have had a massive impact on international tourism. The sharp and sudden fall in arrivals has placed millions of jobs and businesses at risk.
Over recent weeks, a growing number of destinations have started to open up again to international tourists. UNWTO reports that, from early September, 53% of destinations that had implemented travel restrictions were now easing them.
Counting the economic cost
According to UNWTO, the massive drop in international travel demand over the period January-June translates into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about US$460bn in revenue from international tourism. This is around five times the loss in international tourism receipts recorded amid the 2009 global economic and financial crisis.
“The latest World Tourism Barometer shows the deep impact this pandemic is having on tourism, a sector upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods. However, safe and responsible international travel is now possible in many parts of the world, and it is imperative that governments work closely with the private sector to get global tourism moving again. Co-ordinated action is key,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili.
All regions hit hard
The anticipated improvement in international tourism numbers during the peak summer season in the Northern hemisphere did not materialise, despite the gradual reopening of many destinations from around late May.
Europe was the second most badly affected region globally, with a 66% decline in tourist arrivals in the first half of 2020. Asia and the Pacific were the hardest-hit, with a 72% decline for the six-month period.
Africa and the Middle East both suffered a 57% loss and the Americas’ numbers went down 55%.
Looking ahead, it seems likely that reduced travel demand and consumer confidence will continue to affect results for the rest of the year. In May, UNWTO outlined three possible scenarios based on possible dates for the gradual reopening of international borders, pointing to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals in 2020. Current trends through August point to a drop in demand closer to 70% (Scenario 2), especially now as some destinations re-introduce restrictions on travel, and the return to 2019 levels in terms of tourist arrivals could take between two-and-a-half to four years.