TourismUNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

Europe and Americas lead recovery

Europe welcomed more than four times as many international arrivals as in the first five months of 2021 (+350%), boosted by strong intra-regional demand and the removal of all travel restrictions in many countries. In Africa and the Middle East, arrivals could reach about 50% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, in Asia and the Pacific, they would remain at 30% of 2019 levels in the best-case scenario due to stricter policies and restrictions.

Defying mounting challenges

Strong demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer season is expected to consolidate these positive results, particularly as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions. The strong growth in the Middle East (+157%) and Africa (+156%) remained 54% and 50% below 2019 levels, respectively, and Asia and the Pacific almost doubled arrivals (+94%). However, numbers were 90% below 2019, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel. International tourist arrivals in Europe could climb to 65% or 80% of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on various conditions, while in the Americas, they could reach 63% to 76% of those levels.

Tourism spending is also rising.

Rising tourism spending from the major source markets is consistent with the observed recovery. International expenditure by tourists from France, Germany, Italy and the United States is now at 70% to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, spending from India, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has already exceeded 2019 levels. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism saw a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded.

International tourism continues to show signs of a strong and steady recovery from the impact of the pandemic despite significant mounting economic and geopolitical challenges. In terms of international tourism receipts earned in destinations, a growing number of countries – the Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Seychelles, Romania, North Macedonia, Saint Lucia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Pakistan, Sudan, Türkiye, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Mexico, Croatia and Portugal – have fully recovered their pre-pandemic levels.

This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46%) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. However, the strong rebound is measured against weak results in 2021, and arrivals remain 36% and 40% below 2019 in both regions, respectively.

Regional scenarios show Europe and the Americas recording the best tourism results in 2022, while Asia and the Pacific are expected to lag due to more restrictive travel policies.

“The recovery of tourism has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. Results depend on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, ongoing inflation, high energy prices, overall economic conditions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, and the health situation related to the pandemic. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the overall reduction in international air capacity in 2022 will be limited to 20% to 25% of airlines’ seats compared to 2019. However, stronger than expected demand has created significant operational and workforce challenges.

At the same time, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, and fears of an economic slowdown continue to pose a risk to recovery. At the same time, he also advises caution because of the “economic headwinds and geopolitical challenges which could impact the sector in the remainder of 2022 and beyond”. Tourism recovery has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way.

The same pattern is seen across other regions. Several have recovered between 70% and 80% of their pre-pandemic levels, led by the Caribbean and Central America, followed by Southern Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe. More recent challenges such as staff shortages, severe airport congestion, flight delays, and cancellations could also impact international tourism numbers. At the same time, UNWTO continues to work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to monitor the pandemic and emerging public health emergencies and their potential impact on travel. The International Monetary Fund points to a global economic slowdown from 6.1% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022 and 2.9% in 2023. Here, the recent easing of restrictions shows improved results for April and May.

Written by: Matthew Thomas