COVID-19 has placed the whole world on lockdown, with new research from the World Tourism Organization showing that 100% of global destinations continue to have restrictions on travel in place, and 72% have completely closed their borders to international tourism.
The latest data from the World Tourism Organization shows the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 22% fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020. According to the UNWTO. the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared with 2019 figures. This places millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.
The research shows that while discussions on possible first measures for lifting restrictions are underway, 100% of destinations worldwide still have COVID-19 related travel restrictions for international tourists in the place. Out of all 217 destinations worldwide, 156 (72%) have placed a complete stop on international tourism according to the data collected as of 27 April 2020. In 25% of destinations, restrictions have been in place for at least three months, while in 40% of destinations, restrictions were introduced at least two months ago. Most importantly, the research also found that no destination has so far lifted or eased travel restrictions.
UNWTO Secretary-General Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the economy.
Tourism has been the hardest hit of all the major sectors as countries lockdown and people stay at home. UNWTO calls on governments to work together to coordinate the easing and lifting of restrictions in a timely and responsible manner when it is deemed safe to do so. Tourism is a lifeline to millions, especially in the developing world. Opening the world up to tourism again will save jobs, protect livelihoods, and enable our sector to resume its vital role in driving sustainable development.”
Available data reported by destinations point to a 22% decline in arrivals in the first three months of the year, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. Arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57% following the start of a lockdown in many countries, as well as the widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about US$80 billion in receipts (exports from tourism).
Breaking the research down by region, UNWTO has found that 83% of destinations in Europe have introduced complete closure of borders for international tourism. In the Americas, this proportion stands at 80%, in Asia and the Pacific it is 70%, in the Middle East it is 62% and in Africa, it is 57%.
Although Asia and the Pacific show the highest impact in relative and absolute terms (-33 million arrivals), the impact in Europe, though lower in percentage, is quite high in volume (-22 million).
Prospects for the year have been downgraded several times since the outbreak and uncertainty continues to dominate. Current scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals of 58% to 78% for the year which depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders. Scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July are (-58%) in early September (-70%) and (-78%) in early December.
The impact of the loss of demand in international travel could translate into the loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists, loss of US$910 billion to US$1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism, and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.
This is by far the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began (1950). The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first.
Experts see recovery in 2021
According to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey, Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand. The majority expects to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021. Based on previous crises, leisure travel is expected to recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel.
The estimates regarding the recovery of international travel are more positive in Africa and the Middle East with most experts foreseeing recovery still in 2020. Experts in the Americas are the least optimistic and least likely to believe in recovery in 2020, while in Europe and Asia the outlook is mixed, with half of the experts expecting to see recovery within this year.
Towards a Responsible Re-Opening
UNWTO has been working closely with international organizations, national governments, and the private sector, to support the responsible and timely recovery of tourism. Within the past two weeks, UNWTO Secretary-General has addressed Ministers of the G20 and of the EU Commission, making the case for tourism to be made a priority as countries look to recover from the crisis.
Opening the world up to tourism again will save jobs, protect livelihoods, and enable our sector to resume its vital role in driving sustainable development.