International tourists down 83% in Q1 2021: UNWTO

Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity

  
Tourists wearing protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen at Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan March 25, 2020. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Tourists wearing protective face masks following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen at Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan March 25, 2020. Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Ju-min Park

International tourists were down 83% in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, as widespread travel restrictions remained in place, according to the latest report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 

The report noted that between January and March 2021, tourist destinations worldwide 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% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Meanwhile, Europe recorded the second largest decline by 83%, followed by Africa by 81%, the Middle East by 78%, and the Americas by 71%. 

This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector. UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning.” 

He added, “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.” 

However, the UNWTO Confidence Index report shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence. This is supported by the latest survey by the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts, which 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% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% 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. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), 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 obstacles to the sector’s rebound. 

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic, showing that international tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices).

This was equivalent to a drop of over $900bn, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism, including passenger transport, amounts to nearly $1.1trn. Asia and the Pacific, which saw a drop of 70% in real terms, and the Middle East, which saw a drop of 69%, saw the largest drops in receipts.

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