INTERNATIONAL. International tourism continues its steady recovery from the impact of the pandemic, according to the latest figures from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). In the first five months almost 250 million international tourism arrivals were recorded, or 46% of 2019 levels. This compared to 77 million in the same period last year.

“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. But he advised caution in view of the “economic headwinds and geopolitical challenges which could impact the sector in the remainder of 2022 and beyond”.

How tourism fared by region in the first five months compared to 2019; click to enlarge. Source all charts: UNWTO

According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, 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 a growing number of countries.

The region saw particularly robust performance in April (+458%), reflecting a busy Easter period. In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled (+112%). However, the strong rebound is measured against weak results in 2021 and arrivals remain overall -36% and -40% below 2019 levels in both regions, respectively.

Middle East (+157% year-on-year) and Africa (+156%) remained -54% and -50% below 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific almost doubled arrivals (+94%), though numbers were -90% below 2019, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel. Here, the recent easing of restrictions delivered improved results for April and May.Some sub-regions around the world 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.

Some destinations even surpassed 2019 levels, including US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, the Republic of Moldova, Albania, Honduras and Puerto Rico.

Tourism spending

Rising tourism spending from major source markets is consistent with the recovery, noted UNWTO. International expenditure by tourists from France, Germany, Italy and the USA is now at 70% to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, while spending from India, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has already exceeded 2019 levels.

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.

Continuing headwinds

Strong demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer season is expected to consolidate these positive results, particularly as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions. As of 22 July, 62 destinations (of which 39 in Europe) had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place and an increasing number of destinations in Asia have started to ease theirs.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 seats offered by airlines as compared to 2019.

This is also reflected in hotel occupancy rates. Based on data from the industry benchmarking firm STR, global occupancy rates climbed to 66% in June 2022, from 43% in January.

However, noted UNWTO, stronger than expected demand has created significant operational and workforce challenges, while the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, as well as fears of an economic slowdown continue to pose a risk to recovery.

The International Monetary Fund points to a global economic slowdown from +6.1% in 2021 to +3.2% in 2022 and then to +2.9% in 2023.

Regional scenarios for 2022

UNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Results depend on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, inflation, including high energy prices, and overall economic conditions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, as well as the health situation related to the pandemic.

More recent challenges such as staff shortages, severe airport congestion and flight delays and cancellations could also impact international tourism numbers, it added.

Scenarios by region show Europe and Americas recording the best tourism results in 2022, while Asia and the Pacific is expected to lag behind due to more restrictive travel policies.

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.

In Africa and the Middle East arrivals could reach about 50% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, while in Asia and the Pacific they would remain at 30% of 2019 levels in the best case scenario, due to stricter policies and restrictions.

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