UNWTO Projects International Tourist Numbers Could Decline By 80%

by Olamilekan Okeowo

A fresh report by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has projected that International tourism figures could suffer between 60-80% decline over the course of one year because of the disruption occasioned by COVID 19.

According to available data reported by UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, destinations point to a 22% decline in arrivals in the first three months of the year, latest 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 $80 billion in receipts (exports from tourism).

This, according to the report has placed millions of livelihoods at risk and threatened to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the economy.

“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 labor-intensive sectors of the economy” he said.

Asia and the Pacific show 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) the report stated.

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 the shutdown of borders. The following scenarios for 2020 are based on three possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders.

The report stated that based on the first scenario of if international borders and easing of travel restrictions are carried out by early July the sector would record a -58% decline.

Based on the second scenario, the sector is projected to record a -70% decline based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early September.

Scenario 3 projected that the sector will record a -78% loss 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 the loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists and a loss of $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism with 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.

In all of these, 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.

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