March 12, 2021

The impact of the pandemic softened by domestic tourism in the Americas

The Americas saw a decline in arrivals last year, although some countries such as Mexico or the Dominican Republic kept a relatively open tourism policy. In large countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada or the USA), the travel industry was supported by strong domestic tourism activity.

According to the UNWTO’s initial data for 2020, the Americas recorded a decline of 68.5% in 2020 tourist arrivals. The continent recorded 69.03 million international tourist movements compared to 219.14 million in 2019.

Looking on a regional basis, Central and South America were the most affected last year as many countries shut down their borders to international travellers. Central America’s total tourist arrivals declined by 74.3% while South America’s total dropped by 74.1%. The Caribbean was the least affected with a drop of 66.8% in tourist movements, while North America’s total arrivals were down by 67%.

The figures were somewhat buoyed by Mexico, which kept its borders open. News circulated a lot over crowded resorts along the Mexican Riviera as many US and Canadian citizens spent their Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays there. International tourist arrivals were down in Mexico by 46.2% last year according to UNWTO.

The USA’s 2020 tourism season was saved by strong domestic activity. According to the US Travel Association, while international travel and business travel suffered the sharpest declines, with spending down by over 70%. Domestic travel spending was down by “only” 34%. Business travel spending was down by 70% compared to 27% for leisure travel. According to data released by the Bureau of Air Statistics covering the period between December 2019 and November 2020, total passenger departures last year declined by 54.5% to reach 421 million passenger movements.

The strength of the US domestic market is visible in the number of road trips of over 50 miles. After reaching a pandemic low of -72% on the seven-day road trip index, the decline was just below 10% by the end of the year. Another indicator is arrivals in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. Both count visitors from the USA as international travellers and showed a decline in 2020 of 53% and 36.5% respectively.

In the Caribbean, Martinique also managed to contain the drop in tourist arrivals thanks to the French domestic market. Antigua and Cuba saw a decline inferior to 60% while the reopening of the Dominican Republic since September translated into a decline limited to 37% by the end of the year.

While the pandemic remains strong in some South American countries, the zone will mostly benefit in 2021 from domestic travel.

Photo to oh the page: Api beach Punta Cana, Dominican Republic –
© Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism


Canada experienced a drop in international travellers’ numbers from 96.8 million travellers in 2019 to 25.9 million in 2020, down 73.2% from one year to another. Travellers from the United States declined by 84.0% to 4.0 million. Regarding domestic tourism, spending was down 40.6% in the first three quarters of 2020.

The Dominican Republic is reopen to international tourism since last fall with a quarantine being implemented only for people testing positive to Covid-19. According to a study of ForwardKeys, data shows that the international tourism movements were down by less than 37% at the end of last year.

US hotels had a difficult year. According to data from consultant STR, hotel occupancy averaged just 44% in 2020 (33% lower than in 2019), and Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) was just $45 (48% lower than in 2019). Both numbers indicate an all-time low in terms of both absolute numbers and declines.