World Travel Outlook – September 2020

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A new United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Report reveals that international arrivals have been down 65% overall in the first half of 2020, with international tourist arrivals plunging 93% in June 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. The Asia-Pacific region was the hardest hit with a 72% decline. However, all world regions & sub-regions recorded declines of more than 50% in arrivals in the January-June 2020 period. This translates into a loss of 440 million international arrivals and about USD 460 billion in export revenues from just international tourism. To put it in perspective, this is about 5 times the loss recorded in 2009 amid the global economic & financial crisis.


This plunge in international travel has affected many sectors of most national economies, from hotel & hospitality to all kinds of businesses that are either directly or indirectly reliant on a stream of foreign visitors throughout the year – schools, universities and colleges included. Hundreds of millions of jobs have been lost due the pandemic. Major outbound markets such as USA & China continue to be at a standstill, though some markets such as France & Germany have shown improvement.


UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said – “The latest World Tourism Barometer shows the deep impact this pandemic is having on tourism, a sector upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods. However, safe and responsible international travel is now possible in many parts of the world, and it is imperative that governments work closely with the private sector to get global tourism moving again. Coordination is key”.


There has been some relief in the form of many borders reopening to varying degrees in the 3rd quarter of 2020. About 53% (115 in all) of destinations around the world have now started easing travel restrictions. Of these, two have lifted all restrictions, while the remaining 113 have certain restrictive measures in place. Some countries such as China & Russia have benefitted from rising domestic travel, including air travel.


Notably the report shows :

  •  Destinations which have eased travel restrictions generally have high or very high levels of health & hygiene infrastructure. They also tend to have comparatively low COVID-19 infection rates.
  • Within advanced economies, 79% of tourism destinations have already eased restrictions. In emerging economies, only 47% of destinations have done so.
  • 64% of those destinations which have eased have a high or medium dependence on air as a mode of transport for international tourism arrivals.
  • 93 destinations (43% of all worldwide destinations) continue to have their borders completely closed to tourism.
  • Half of all destinations with borders completely closed to tourism are classified as being among the world’s most vulnerable countries.


Looking ahead, it seems likely that reduced travel demand & consumer confidence will continue to impact results for the rest of the year. UNWTO has outlined 3 possible scenarios, pointing to declines of between 58 – 78% in international tourist arrivals in 2020.


The Report points to an improvement in the scenario in 2021. However, this is based on the following assumptions –

  • A gradual & linear lifting of travel restrictions
  • The availability of a vaccine or treatment
  • Return of traveler confidence


The Report also adds that despite all this, the return to 2019 levels in terms of tourist arrivals would take between 2.1/2 to 4 years. With events in the international education industry often mirroring those in the broader tourism sector, we can expect a similar recovery period for the world’s major study abroad destinations & education institutions.


UNWTO continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector. Currently, the situation is fluid. Even as tourism restarts in some regions, in others, restrictions may be tightened & borders re-closed. Similarly, UNWTO has observed a rise in travel advisories being issued by governments for their own citizens, alongside more and varied restrictions & other measures directed at passengers arriving from specific countries or regions.


Source : UNWTO

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