UNWTO reports 65% decrease in tourist arrival during first half of 2020

Published on : Thursday, September 17, 2020

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation recently published the latest issue of the World Tourism Barometer that showed how international tourist arrivals dropped by 65% during the first half of 2020 due to the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector. It was mentioned that the numbers represented an unprecedented decrease, as countries around the globe closed their borders and introduced travel restrictions in response to the pandemic.


UNWTO has already reported that a growing number of destinations have started to welcome back international tourists over the recent weeks, and as of early September, 53% of destinations had eased their travel restrictions. However, it was also informed that many governments continue remain cautious. According to reports, lockdowns introduced during the first half of the year have had a massive impact on international tourism and the sharp and sudden fall in arrivals has placed millions of jobs and businesses at risk.


UNWTO also reported that the massive drop in international travel demand over the period January-June 2020 has translated into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about US$ 460 billion in export revenues from international tourism. It was also informed that the number is around five times the loss in international tourism receipts as recorded in 2009 amid the global economic and financial crisis.


The UN specialised tourism agency also reported that despite the gradual reopening of many destinations since the second half of May, the anticipated improvement in international tourism numbers during the peak summer season in the Northern Hemisphere did not materialise. Europe was the second-hardest hit of all global regions, with a 66% decline in tourist arrivals in the first half of 2020. The Americas (-55%), Africa and the Middle East (both -57%) also suffered. However, Asia and the Pacific, the first region to feel the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, was the hardest hit, with a 72% fall in tourists for the six-month period.


At the sub-regional level, North-East Asia (-83%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (-72%) suffered the largest declines. All world regions and sub-regions recorded declines of more than 50% in arrivals in January-June 2020. The contraction of international demand has also been reflected in double-digit declines in international tourism expenditure among large markets. Major outbound markets such as the United States and China continue to be at a standstill, though some markets such as France and Germany have shown some improvement in June. 


UNWTO also stated that the reduced travel demand and consumer confidence is likely to continue to have an impact on the industry for the rest of the year. It mentioned that the current trends through August point to a drop in demand closer to 70% especially as some destinations have re-established restrictions on travel. However, based on the assumptions of a gradual and linear lifting of travel restrictions, the availability of a vaccine or treatment and a return of traveller confidence, UNWTO is also expecting that the extension of the scenarios to 2021 might point to a change in trend next year.


Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General, UNWTO stated that the latest World Tourism Barometer shows the deep impact the pandemic is having on tourism, a sector upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods. He also mentioned that irrespective of all the challenges, safe and responsible international travel is now possible in many parts of the world. He said that coordinated action is the key at present and it is imperative that governments should work closely with the private sector to get global tourism moving again.


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