March 2, 2023

Global tourism shows strong recovery

Tourism around the world enjoyed a strong rebound in 2022, reaching 900 million total international arrivals, according to first data from the UNWTO. This suggests the industry has reached 63% of pre-pandemic levels, which is in line with the agency’s previous scenarios.

900 million international arrivals in 2022

63% international tourism recovered to 63% of 2019 levels in 2022

80-95% UNWTO expects arrivals to recover up to 80-95% of 2019 levels this year

The world witnessed a rise in international travellers – even in countries such as China or Japan which remained closed to outbound until the last quarter of last year. For years, the global economic climate has shaped the growth of the tourism industry, but 2022 proved to be a contradiction in terms. This exception was characterised by revenge travel in the wake of the global pandemic.

The UNWTO has found the recovery was stronger than expected in 2022. Tourism’s good performance was backed by large pent-up demand and the lifting or relaxation of travel restrictions in a large number of countries. In 2021, at the height of the Covid crisis, 98% of the destinations imposed restrictions for travellers with 21% being countries hermetically closed according to a UNWTO study. In November 2022, over 60% of the countries around the world had totally lifted their restrictions. Only 7 countries continued to be totally closed to any foreign travellers or to non-vaccinated visitors while another dozen countries asked travellers to quarantine if testing positive to Covid.

UNWTO indicates that over 900 million tourists travelled internationally in 2022, doubling those in 2021, although it was still 37% fewer than in 2019. International tourism recovered 63% of pre-pandemic levels, in line with UNWTO’s scenarios published in May 2022.

The UNWTO has found the recovery was stronger than expected in 2022.

The rate of recovery of course varied from one continent to another. The bouncing back was stronger in the Middle-East and Europe. Both saw their arrivals reaching 83% and 80% of pre-pandemic levels respectively. In 2022, it was confirmed that Europe was the largest destination in the world with 585 million arrivals, a market share of 65% in world arrivals. This is a jump of over 14 percentage points compared to 2019 (50.7%). The Americas and Africa also saw tourist arrivals reaching 65% of pre-Covid numbers while Asia and the Pacific lagged behind with a modest recovery at 27% of pre-pandemic levels. Asia and the Pacific continued to apply the world’s strictest rules for international travellers. By subregions, Western Europe (87%) and the Caribbean (84%) came closest to their pre-pandemic levels.

Spending in tourism enjoyed also a strong rebound in 2022, resulting in the recovery of pre-pandemic levels in income across many destinations. Many even saw receipts exceed growth in the number of arrivals. The growth in revenues was supported by the increase in average spending per trip due to longer periods of stay, the willingness by travelers to spend more in their destination, and higher travel costs partly due to inflation.

Looking ahead, international tourism is set to consolidate its recovery, backed by further pent-up demand. As Asia and Pacific destinations reopened later than the rest of the world, both continents should experience stronger growth than other parts of the world.

The UNWTO Panel of Experts survey indicates that 72% of respondents expect better performance in 2023. However, most experts (65%) also believe international tourism will not return to 2019 levels until 2024 or later. Based on UNWTO’s scenarios for 2023, international tourist arrivals could reach 80% to 95% of pre-pandemic levels this year, with Europe and the Middle East expected to reach those levels.

With political and economic tensions due to continue in 2023, the UNWTO expects however that tourists wouls increasingly seek value for money and travel close to home in response to the challenging economic environment.

Photo: Asia Pacific should be the fastest growing region in world tourism in 2023  – Singapore

Outbound tourism is back on track

Recovery of tourist arrivals in most countries around the world has also meant a recovery of outbound tourism. According to the UNWTO, the performance from major source markets in international spending is now closing on 2019 numbers. France’s spending for outbound tourism was only 4% lower compared to 2019, Germany 8% lower, Italy 10% lower (until October 2022) and the United States lower by 15% (until November 2022).
Emerging markets with robust rebound in spending in 2022 include Qatar (+29%), India (+10% through June) and Saudi Arabia (+7% through September).

Transforming Tourism by Measuring its Sustainability

Experts gathered at UNWTO Headquarters last December to develop “Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism (MST)”. The MST responds to the need for guidance to produce more credible and comparable data on the role of tourism for people, planet and prosperity. The data framework will empower policy makers and the private sector to shape innovative policies and transform business models.

Transparent and reliable metrics need to be produced to benchmark performance, communicate progress, streamline policy, and ensure that action on the ground is aligned with policy ambitions. Launched in 2016 by UNWTO in partnership with leading countries and organisations, “Measuring the Sustainability of Tourism” is the industry’s response to move beyond GDP.

Global tourism shows strong recovery
Tourism policies in Scandinavian cities rank them into the most sustainable destinations in the world according to various surveys (Photo: Aarhus in Denmark-LC/Cleverdis)