A new report paints a bleak picture of the global tourism industry's ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, predicting that revenues in 2021 will only slightly improve on last year's historic losses.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that the contribution of tourism to the world economy this year will be $1.9 trillion — a slight improvement over last year's $1.6 trillion but still far lower than the $3.5 trillion the industry earned in 2019.
Among the reasons for the slow recovery is the continuing pandemic, and the recent emergence of the highly transmissible omicron variant presents another potential hurdle as the industry prepares for the upcoming winter holiday season.
"[W]e cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility, and continue to support the sector," Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, said in a statement.
Global lockdowns and severe travel restrictions caused international tourism to nosedive by 73% in 2020, with about one billion fewer people traveling abroad than the year before.
But even as vaccines have become more widely available this year, the roll-out has been uneven, and the global tourism industry has struggled to bounce back amid the spread of variants and high infection rates in some parts of the world.
Through September of this year, there were still 76% fewer international tourists than in 2019, and the U.N. forecasts that the global tourism economy will end the year about 70% to 75% below 2019 levels.
The recovery of the tourism industry is regional, and some areas are faring better than others. Southern and Mediterranean Europe and North and Central America all saw international tourism through September increase over last year, and the Caribbean recorded a 55% jump in arrivals. But Asia and the Pacific saw 95% fewer international tourists compared to 2019.
There were some bright spots in the report. Domestic tourism is way up, as travelers are taking shorter trips closer to home. Also, both international and domestic travelers are spending more money per trip because of larger savings and pent-up demand, though that could also be due to longer stays and higher prices.