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.
From the start of the crisis, the United Nations specialized agency for tourism has been tracking responses to the pandemic. This latest 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 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 Zurab Pololikashvili said: “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.”
Restrictions Common Across All Global Regions
The UNWTO research tracks measures taken since the end of January, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
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%.
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.
International Tourist Numbers Could Fall 60-80 % in 2020, UNWTO Reports
- International tourism down 22% in Q1 and could decline by 60-80% over the whole year
- 67 million fewer international tourists up to March translates into USD 80 billion in lost exports
- UNWTO has outlined three possible future scenarios depending on how the crisis unfolds
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a 22 % fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020, the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows. According to the United Nations specialized agency, 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 (SDGs).
UNWTO Secretary-General 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 labour-intensive sectors of the economy.
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).
Although Asia and the Pacific shows 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).
International Tourism 2020 Scenarios
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. These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders. The following scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders.
- Scenario 1 (-58%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July
- Scenario 2 (-70%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early September
- Scenario 3 (-78%) based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions only in early December.
Under these scenarios, the impact of the loss of demand in international travel could translate into:
- Loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists
- Loss of USD 910 billion to USD 1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism
- 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
Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand according to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey. 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 is 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.