International tourism continues to rebound, says UNWTO

International tourism continues to rebound, says UNWTO

A 4% rise in international tourist arrivals was seen across the globe in 2021 with an estimated tourism GDP of US$1.9 trillion

  • Despite 4% rise in 2021 compared to 2020, international tourist arrivals in 2021 still 72% down on pre-pandemic levels
  • 2020 was the worst year on record for tourism, with international arrivals down by 73%
  • Tourism gross domestic product is estimated at US$1.9 trillion in 2021, compared to US$1.6 trillion in 2020
  • “Recovery needs stronger coordination and increased vaccination rates” says UNTWO

Travel and Tourism
According to the first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism “rebounded moderately” during the second half of 2021.

Limited data suggests that international arrivals in December were 65% below 2019 levels, however, the full impact of Omicron is yet to be seen.

Globally, 64% of industry experts expect international arrivals to return to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later

The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence. 

The report states: ‘Africa saw a 12% increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74% below 2019. In the Middle East, arrivals declined 24% compared to 2020 and 79% over 2019. In Asia and the Pacific, arrivals were still 65% below 2020 levels and 94% when compared to pre-pandemic values as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.’


Europe and the Americas recorded the strongest results in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17% respectively), but are still both 63% below pre-pandemic levels. By subregion, the Caribbean saw the best performance (+63% above 2020, though 37% below 2019), with some destinations coming close to, or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%) also enjoyed a significant rebound but remain 54% and 56% down on 2019 levels respectively. North America (+17%) and Central Eastern Europe (+18%) also climbed above 2020 levels. 

Tourism Spending
In 2021, the economic contribution of tourism, measured in tourism direct gross domestic product, is estimated to have reached US$1.9 trillion, up on the US$1.6 trillion in 2020. Pre-pandemic figures were US$3.5 trillion.

Due to accumulated savings, longer stays and higher transport and accommodation prices, travellers’ spending has increased. Average receipts per arrival are estimated to reach US$1,500 in 2021, up from US$1,300 in 2020.

Saudi Arabia (-27%) and Qatar (-2%) reported comparatively smaller declines in tourism expenditure in 2021

Travel Trend: the Rise of Domestic Tourism 
While international tourism rebounds, domestic tourism continues to drive recovery of the sector in an increasing number of destinations. 
Domestic tourism and travel close to home, as well as open-air activities, nature-based products and rural tourism are among the major travel trends that will continue shaping tourism in 2022.

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