The COVID-19 health crisis could lead to an annual decline of 60-80% in the arrival of foreign travellers internationally compared to 2019 figures. The decline puts the livelihoods of millions of people at risk and threatens to undo the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDAs). This is what the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the specialized agency of the United Nations (UNTO), says in its latest World Tourism Barometer that the pandemic has already caused a 22% drop in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020.
Although the Asia-Pacific region shows the greatest impact in relative and absolute terms (-33 million arrivals), the impact in Europe, although lower in percentage terms, is quite high in volume (-22 million).
On the basis of the available data, the UNWTO has been correcting its forecast for the fall in travellers in recent weeks. In this sense, the UNWTO proposes three possible scenarios for the development of the crisis:
The outlook for the year has been corrected downwards several times since the outbreak emerged and uncertainty continues to dominate. The current scenarios point to a possible decline in arrivals of between 58% and 78% for the year. This will depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and border closures. The following scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening of international borders
This is by far the worst crisis international tourism has faced since records began in 1950. The impact will be felt to varying degrees in different regions and at overlapping times, with the Asia-Pacific region expected to start recovering earlier.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Tourism has been hit hard, and millions of jobs are at risk in one of the world’s largest labour sectors.
Recovery in 2021
Domestic demand could recover before international demand according to the UNWTO Expert Group survey. Most expect to start seeing signs of recovery in the last quarter of 2020, but especially in 2021. Taking previous crises as a starting point, leisure travel, especially travel to visit friends and family, could recover faster than business travel.
The feeling regarding the recovery of international travel is more positive in Africa and the Middle East where most experts predict recovery in 2020. Experts in the Americas are the least optimistic and least willing to believe in recovery in 2020, while in Europe and Asia the outlook is mixed, with half the experts expecting recovery to begin this year.