World Tourism Organization revealed the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared with 2019 figures. Picture: Yuri_B/Pixbay.
World Tourism Organization revealed the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared with 2019 figures. Picture: Yuri_B/Pixbay.

Covid-19: International tourist numbers could fall up to 80% in 2020

By Travel Reporter Time of article published May 7, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has caused a 22 percent fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020, the latest data from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) reveals. 

According to the United Nations specialised agency, the crisis could lead to an annual decline of between 60 and 80 percent when compared with 2019 figures. 

This places millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said in a statement that 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 labour-intensive sectors of the economy.” 

According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, available data reported by destinations point to a 22 percent decline in arrivals in the first three months of the year. 

It stated that arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57 percent 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).

Although 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 statement states that 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 percent for the year. 

These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and the shutdown of borders. 

There are three possible scenarios based on the gradual opening of international borders and the easing of travel restrictions. Scenario 1 predicts a -58 percent if it opens in early July. Scenario 2 predicts a -70 percent if it opens in early September. Scenario 3 predicts a -78 percent if it opens in early December. 

Under these scenarios, the impact of the loss of demand in international travel could translate into a loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists, a loss of $910-billion to $1.2-trillion in export revenues from tourism and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk. 

Experts see recovery in 2021 

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. Sentiments regarding the recovery of international travel are more positive in Africa and the Middle East with most experts foreseeing recovery 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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