2021: the year of asymmetric recovery
As expected, the season ends and in the rearview mirror there is a mixture of sensations with markets that even managed to surpass their 2019 marks
After a weak first half of 2021, international tourism rebounded during the northern hemisphere's summer season, boosting results for the third quarter of the year, especially in Europe.
According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased 58% in July-September 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. However, they remained 64% below from 2019 levels. Europe posted the best relative performance in the third quarter, with international arrivals 53% less than in the same three-month period in 2019. In August and September, arrivals were -63% compared to 2019, the best monthly results since the start of the pandemic.
Between January and September 2021, international tourist arrivals worldwide stood at -20% compared to 2020, a clear improvement over the first six months of the year (-54%). In some subregions (Southern and Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, North and Central America), arrivals exceeded 2020 levels in the first nine months of 2021. Some Caribbean islands and South Asia, along with some small destinations in the south and South Asia. Mediterranean Europe posted its best performance in the third quarter of 2021 based on available data, with arrivals approaching or sometimes exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
We cannot lower our guard and we must continue our efforts to guarantee equal access to vaccines, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector.
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The data for the third quarter of 2021 is encouraging. However, arrivals are still 76% below pre-pandemic levels and the results in the different regions of the world remain uneven. "In light of the increase in cases and the appearance of new variants, he added that" we cannot lower guard and we must continue our efforts to guarantee equal access to vaccines, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector. "
The surge in demand was driven by increased traveler confidence amid rapid progress in vaccines and easing of entry restrictions at many destinations. In Europe, the EU Covid Digital Certificate has helped facilitate free movement within the European Union, releasing a significant pent-up demand after many months of restricted travel. Arrivals in January-September 2021 were only 8% below the same period in 2020 but still 69% below 2019. America posted the strongest inbound results in January-September, with arrivals 1% more in compared to 2020 but still 65% below 2019 levels. The Caribbean posted the strongest results by subregion,
Slow and uneven recovery pace
Despite the improvement observed in the third quarter of the year, the pace of recovery continues to be slow and uneven in the world regions. This is due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates, and traveler confidence. While Europe (-53%) and America (-60%) enjoyed relative improvement during the third quarter of 2021, arrivals to Asia and the Pacific decreased by 95% compared to 2019, as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel. Africa and the Middle East registered declines of 74% and 81% respectively in the third quarter compared to 2019. Among the largest destinations, Croatia (-19%), Mexico (-20%) and Turkey (-35%) obtained the best results. in July-September 2021, based on currently available information.
Progressive improvement in income and expenses
Data on international tourism receipts show a similar improvement in the third quarter of 2021. Mexico recorded the same gains as in 2019, while Turkey (-20%), France (-27%) and Germany (-37%) recorded comparatively smaller declines than before. in the year. On trips abroad, results were also moderately better, with France and Germany reporting -28% and -33% respectively in international tourism spending during the third quarter.
On the positive side, tourism spending per trip has increased significantly due to large savings and stifled demand, softening the blow to economies. International revenues increased from an average of US $ 1,000 per arrival in 2019 to US $ 1,300 in 2020 and could exceed US $ 1,500 in 2021. However, higher spending is also the result of longer stays, increased prices of transport and accommodation.
Despite recent improvements, uneven vaccination rates around the world and new strains of Covid-19 could affect the already slow and fragile recovery. The economic stress caused by the pandemic could also affect travel demand, exacerbated by the recent rise in oil prices and the disruption of supply chains. According to the latest UNWTO data, international tourist arrivals are expected to remain 70-75% below 2019 levels in 2021, a decline similar to 2020.
International tourism receipts could reach between 700 and 800 billion dollars in 2021, a small improvement over 2020, but less than half of the 1.7 trillion dollars recorded in 2019. The economic contribution of tourism is estimated at $ 1.9 trillion in 2021 (measured in direct gross domestic product from tourism) well below the pre-pandemic value of $ 3.5 trillion.
The safe resumption of international tourism will continue to depend heavily on a coordinated response between countries in terms of travel restrictions, harmonized safety and health protocols, and effective communication to help restore consumer confidence. This is particularly critical at a time when cases are increasing in some regions and new variants of Covid-19 are emerging in different parts of the world.