International tourist arrivals reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024, according to a UN Tourism report which said more than 285 million tourists travelled internationally in January-March.

The figure is about 20% more than the first quarter of 2023, underscoring the sector’s near-complete recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

In 2023 international tourist arrivals recovered 89% of 2019 levels, while export revenues from tourism remained at 97% and direct tourism GDP reached the same levels as in 2019.

UN Tourism’s projection for 2024 points to a full recovery of international tourism with arrivals growing 2% above 2019 levels. In line with this, the newest data released by the UN specialized agency for tourism show that:

* The Middle East saw the strongest relative growth, with international arrivals exceeding by 36% pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, or 4% above Q1 2023. This follows an extraordinary performance in 2023, when the Middle East became the first world region to recover pre-pandemic numbers (+22%).

* Europe, the world's largest destination region, exceeded pre-pandemic levels in a quarter for the first time (+1% from Q1 2019). The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of the year, backed by robust intra-regional demand.

* Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 than in Q1 2019, and 13% more than in Q1 2023.

* The Americas practically recovered pre-pandemic numbers this first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels.

* International tourism is experiencing a rapid recovery in Asia and the Pacific where arrivals reached 82% of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, after recovering 65% in the year 2023.

UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: "The recovery of the sector is very welcome news for our economies and the livelihoods of millions. Yet it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, aiming to advance sustainability and inclusion, while addressing the externalities and impact of the sector on resources and communities".

By subregions, North Africa saw the strongest performance in Q1 2014 with 23% more international arrivals than before the pandemic, followed by Central America (+8%), the Caribbean and Western Europe (both +7%). Southern Mediterranean Europe exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 1%, while South America virtually reached 2019 levels. Northern Europe recovered 98% of pre-pandemic levels, while Subsaharan Africa and North America both recovered 95%.

According to available data, many destinations across the world continued to achieve strong results in Q1 2024, including Qatar (+177% versus Q1 2019), Albania (+121%), Saudi Arabia (+98%), Tanzania (+53%), Curaçao (+45%), Serbia (+43%), Turks and Caicos (+42%), Guatemala (+41%) and Bulgaria (+38%).

The robust performance of international tourism can also be seen in the UN Tourism Confidence Index which reached 130 points (on a scale of 0 to 200) for the period January-April, above the expectations (122) expressed for this period in mid-January.


International tourism receipts reached $1.5 trillion in 2023, meaning a complete recovery of pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, but 97% in real terms, adjusting for inflation.

By regions, Europe generated the highest receipts in 2023, with destinations earning $660 billion, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 7% in real terms. Receipts in the Middle East climbed 33% above 2019 levels. The Americas recovered 96% of its pre-pandemic earnings in 2023 and Africa 95%. Asia and the Pacific earned 78% of its pre-crisis receipts, a remarkable result when compared to its 65% recovery in arrivals last year.

Total export revenues from international tourism, including both receipts and passenger transport, reached $1.7 trillion in 2023, about 96% of pre-pandemic levels in real terms. Tourism direct GDP recovered to pre-pandemic levels, reaching an estimated $3.3 trillion in 2023, equivalent to 3% of global GDP.

Several destinations achieved remarkable results in terms of receipts this quarter as compared to 2019 levels based on available data, including Serbia (+127%), Türkiye (+82%), Pakistan (+72%), Tanzania (+62%), Portugal (+61%), Romania (+57%), Japan (+53%), Mongolia (+50%), Mauritius (+46%) and Morocco (+44%).

Looking ahead to a full recovery

International tourism is expected to recover completely in 2024 backed by strong demand, enhanced air connectivity and the continued recovery of China and other major Asian markets.

The latest UN Tourism Confidence Index shows positive prospects for the upcoming summer season, with a score of 130 for the period May-August 2024 (on a scale of 0 to 200), reflecting more upbeat sentiment than earlier this year. Some 62% of tourism experts participating in the Confidence survey expressed better (53%) or much better (9%) expectations for this 4-month period, covering the Northern Hemisphere summer season, while 31% foresee similar performance as in 2023.

Challenges remain

According to the UN Tourism Panel of Experts, economic and geopolitical headwinds continue to pose significant challenges to international tourism and confidence levels.

IMF's latest World Economic Outlook (April 2024) points to a steady but slow economic recovery, though mixed by region. At the same time, persisting inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and disruptions to trade continue to translate into high transport and accommodations costs.

Tourists are expected to continue to seek value for money and travel closer to home in response to elevated prices and the overall economic challenges, while extreme temperatures and other weather events could impact the destination choice of many travellers. This is increasingly mentioned by the UN Tourism Panel of Experts as a concern for the sector.

Uncertainty derived from the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Hamas-Israel conflict and other mounting geopolitical tensions, are also important downside risks for international tourism.

As international tourism continues to recover and expand, fuelling economic growth and employment around the world, governments will need to continue adapting and enhancing their management of tourism at the national and local level to ensure communities and residents are at the center of this development, the report said. 

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