International tourist arrivals down 83% in 1Q but confidence rising: UNWTO

International tourist arrivals plunged by 83 per cent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2021 amid ongoing widespread travel restrictions, according to the latest data released by the UNWTO. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.

Between January and March 2021, destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83 per cent, followed by Africa (-81 per cent), the Middle East (-78 per cent) and the Americas (-71 per cent).

Asia-Pacific recorded a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals between January and March 2021; a largely empty Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia during Covid-19 pictured

This all follows on from the 73 per cent fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector.

UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili commented: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication, while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably, the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.

Overall, 60 per cent expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50 per cent in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40 per cent see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January.

Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37 per cent), when compared to the January survey.

Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64 per cent in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over four per cent in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70 per cent in real terms) and the Middle East (-69 per cent) saw the largest drops in receipts.

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