Global tourism experienced a 4 percent increase in 2021, compared to 2020. However, the United Nations World Trade Organization (UNWTO) says in a report released on Tuesday that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72 percent below the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
This follows on from 2020, the worst year on record for tourism when international arrivals decreased by 73 percent.
Africa saw a 12 percent increase in arrivals in 2021 compared to 2020, though this is still 74 percent below 2019. In the Middle East, arrivals declined 24 percent compared to 2020 and 79 percent over 2019.
The first 2022 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also indicated that rising rates of vaccination, combined with easing of travel restrictions due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols, have all helped release pent-up demand. International tourism rebounded moderately during the second half of 2021, with international arrivals down 62 percent in both the third and fourth quarters compared to pre-pandemic levels. According to limited data, international arrivals in December were 65 percent below 2019 levels. The full impact of the Omicron variant and surge in COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen.
Economist Courage Martey told Deutsche Welles in an interview that while African tourism is forecast to pick up considerably in the next years, after being particularly hard hit in 2020 and picking up slightly in 2021, the continent should not expect large numbers of tourists in 2022.
Martey believes Sub-Saharan Africa’s low vaccination rates, combined with the threat of emerging new variants, are a risk that international tourists might not want to take.
He suggests that countries that traditionally rely on foreign visitors should instead target domestic tourists in 2022 to help rejuvenate the sector, adding that getting more people vaccinated was also critical to turning things around.
According to the latest UNWTO Panel of Experts, most tourism professionals expect a rebound in 2022, mostly during the third quarter. But international arrivals are not likely to return to 2019 levels until 2024 or later.
The UNWTO Confidence Index shows a slight decline in January-April 2022. A rapid and more widespread vaccination roll-out, followed by a major lifting of travel restrictions, and more coordination and clearer information on travel protocols, are the main factors identified by experts for the effective recovery of international tourism. UNWTO scenarios indicate that international tourist arrivals could grow by 30 to 78 percent as compared to 2021. However, this is still below pre-pandemic levels.