UNWTO reports -83% fall in Q1 international tourist arrivals but says confidence is rising

Respondents indicated travel is a good motivator to take a COVID-19 vaccine with 21% of Europeans who were undecided about taking one indicating that it being a mandatory part of travel would push them to get vaccinated

International tourist arrivals have sunk by -83% in the first quarter of 2021, against the same year ago period, according to new figures released by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). However, the UNWTO has also expressed optimism for the months ahead, after an uptick in its Confidence Index.

Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year.

International tourist arrivals

Huge falls in international tourist arrivals have been seen across every sub-region in Q1 (click to enlarge)

Asia Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a -94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period.

Meanwhile, Europe recorded the second-largest decline (-83%), followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%).

UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts’ opinions on the pace of tourism recovery (click to enlarge)

These numbers follow on from the -73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020. UNWTO noted that this makes last year the worst on record for the sector.

However, the latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts – which gives the data for UNWTO’s Confidence Index – suggests that prospects for the May-August period may improve slightly. The tourism organisation attributes this to the pace of the vaccination roll-out in some key source markets as well as the advancement of policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate.

UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts’ opinions on how long it will take for tourism to return 2019 levels in their own countries (click to enlarge)

Overall, 60% of respondents expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January.

Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.

International tourist arrivals

Predicted path of recovery for tourism across 2021, plotted against two different scenarios (click to enlarge)

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.” international tourist arrivals


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