WEF says global tourism is back to pre-pandemic levels, but challenges remain

International tourist arrivals and the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP were expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. Photo: Armand Hough Independent Newspapers

International tourist arrivals and the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP were expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year. Photo: Armand Hough Independent Newspapers

Published May 22, 2024


The World Economic Forum (WEF) expected international tourist arrivals and the travel sector’s contribution to global economic growth to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, driven by the lifting of Covid-19-related travel restrictions and strong pent-up demand.

This is according to the findings of the Travel and Tourism Development Index 2024 (TTDI), a biennial report published by the WEF in collaboration with the University of Surrey.

The report analysed the travel and tourism sectors of 119 countries across a range of factors and policies.

The global tourism industry was expected to recover from the lows of the Covid-19 pandemic and surpass the levels seen before the crisis.

This was largely being driven by a significant increase in demand worldwide, which had coincided with more available flights, better international openness, and increased interest and investment in natural and cultural attractions.

Topping the 2024 list of economies were the US, Spain, Japan, France and Australia.

The Middle East had the highest recovery rates in international tourist arrivals of 20% above the 2019 level, while Europe, Africa and the Americas all showed a strong recovery of around 90% last year.

The WEF’s head of the global industries team, Francisco Betti, said this year marked a turning point for the travel and tourism sector, which they knew had the capacity to unlock growth and serve communities through economic and social transformation.

“The TTDI offers a forward-looking window into the current and future state of travel and tourism for leaders to navigate the latest trends in this complex sector and sustainably unlock its potential for communities and countries across the world,” Betti said.

However, the global recovery had been mixed. While 71 of the 119 ranked economies increased their scores since 2019, the average index score was a mere 0.7% above pre-pandemic levels.

Although the sector had moved past the shock of the global health crisis, it continued to deal with other external challenges, from growing macroeconomic, geopolitical and environmental risks, to increased scrutiny of its sustainability practices and the impact of new digital technologies, such as big data and artificial intelligence.

In addition, labour shortages were ongoing, and air route capacity, capital investment, productivity and other sector supply factors had not kept up with the increase in demand. This imbalance, worsened by global inflation, had increased prices and service issues.

These result were said to highlight that high-income economies generally continued to have more favourable conditions for travel and tourism development. This was helped by conducive business environments, dynamic labour markets, open travel policies, strong transport and tourism infrastructure, and well-developed natural, cultural and non-leisure attractions.

Nevertheless, developing countries had seen some of the greatest improvements in recent years.

Among the upper-middle-income economies, China had cemented its ranking in the top 10.

Major emerging travel and tourism destinations of Indonesia, Brazil and Türkiye had joined China in the top quartile of the rankings.

More broadly, low- to upper-middle-income economies accounted for over 70% of countries that had improved their scores since 2019, while MENA and sub-Saharan Africa were among the most improved regions.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only high-income economies to rank among the top 10 most improved economies between 2019 and 2024.