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UNWTO estimates tourism growth at 4% in 2021, sees no recovery until third quarter

Jean-Noël Escudié / P2C for Localtis

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) publishes its traditional “World Tourism Barometer”. This issue presents the first results for 2021 and outlines – or attempts to outline – the outlook for 2022. In an ordinary year, these results for 2021 would have been considered satisfactory. But they actually show the persistence of the collapse of world tourism. And, in a context marked by the fifth wave of the pandemic, the outlook for 2022 is extremely uncertain.

2021 arrivals still 72% below their 2019 level

These data on world tourism are all the more important as France, the world’s leading tourist destination, is highly dependent on their development. We saw this again recently with the very positive impact of the sudden return of British tourists to alpine ski resorts (25% of attendance).

In 2021, international tourist arrivals increased by 4% worldwide, with 415 million international arrivals compared to 400 the previous year. But this progression is calculated on the year 2020 “which will have been the worst year in the history of tourism, marked by a drop of 73% in international arrivals”. As a result, arrivals in 2021 remain 72% below their pre-health crisis level, in other words compared to the reference year of 2019. While international tourism experienced a slight rebound in the second half of 2021 – with a drop of “only” 62% in international arrivals compared to the same period of 2019 – the drop rises to 65% in December 2021 and the UNWTO estimates that “the impact of the Omicron variant and the explosion of cases of Covid-19 is yet to be determined in full.”

However, unlike 2020, the results are very unequal depending on the continent. Europe and France are doing rather better than the other countries, even if they are still very far from the results of 2019. Compared to 2020, it is thus Europe and the Americas that have recorded the strongest increases ( respectively +19% and +17%), but in both cases remaining 63% below pre-pandemic levels. In terms of sub-regions, the best – or less bad – 2021 performances go to the Caribbean (+63% compared to 2020 but still 37% below 2019), Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%), these last two zones remaining at levels 54% and 56% lower than those of 2019. On the other hand, the Middle East fell further by 24% compared to 2020. But this is above all Asia-Pacific which explains the world average growth of 4%. International tourist arrivals are indeed 65% lower than 2020 levels and 94% lower than 2019… Suffice to say that international tourism has virtually disappeared in these territories, “many destinations remaining closed to non-domestic travel. essential”.

A slight increase in tourist receipts

The results in terms of tourism receipts are slightly better.

The economic contribution of tourism in 2021 – measured in direct tourism GDP and which therefore includes domestic tourism – is thus estimated at 1,900 billion dollars. Here too, this figure is higher than the 1,600 billion in 2020 (+ 19%), but still remains very far from the result before the health crisis, i.e. 3,500 billion.

If we stick to international tourism export earnings alone, these “could exceed $700 billion in 2021, which represents a slight improvement compared to 2020 due to the increase in expenditure per trip. , but that’s less than half of the 1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.”

For its part, the average level of receipts per international arrival should reach 1,500 dollars in 2021, against 1,300 in 2020 (+15%). The UNWTO explains this progression “by the large volumes of accumulated savings and the lengthening of the duration of stays, and by the higher transport and accommodation prices”. Here too, France is experiencing rather more favorable results in terms of tourist spending in 2021. The drop in the latter compared to 2019 would in fact be “only” 37%.

“Domestic tourism continues to drive the recovery of the sector”

In terms of outlook, the trends are quite uncertain, in a context that is still difficult to decipher. Nevertheless, “the latest indications from the UNWTO expert group are that most tourism professionals (61%) are counting on a more favorable outlook for 2022”. Among the members of the group of experts, 58% expect a rebound in 2022, mainly in the third quarter, while 42% expect a potential rebound only in 2023. Sign of the fragility of forecasts in this area: in January 2022, a clear majority of UNWTO experts (64%) believe that the return of international arrivals to 2019 levels will not occur until 2024 or later, while 45% thought so when the September 2021 survey, in other words before the fifth wave.

For its part, the UNWTO confidence index shows signs of a slight decline for January-April 2022. Indeed, “the recent wave of Covid-19 cases and the Omicron variant are expected to disrupt the recovery and undermine confidence at the start of 2022, knowing that countries are reinstating travel bans and restrictions aimed at certain markets”. Depending on the geographical area, the UNWTO scenarios expect growth in international tourist arrivals ranging from 30% to 78% compared to 2021. However, despite this expected increase, these levels will still remain lower by 50% to 63% to those before the pandemic.

Finally, as seen in France, the UNWTO believes that “domestic tourism continues to drive the recovery of the sector in a growing number of destinations, particularly those with large internal markets. According to experts, tourism internal and travel close to home, as well as outdoor activities, nature-related products and rural tourism are among the major travel trends that will continue to characterize tourism in 2022”.

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