Skift Take

It's a stark update from the United Nations' tourism arm on the projected delayed return of international tourism — but it's also up to governments in wealthier nations to turn that tide and speed up recovery through global vaccine equity.

On the eve of a summer holiday season that’s promising to be the first meaningful start to tourism recovery in a number of regions of the world, including the U.S. and the European Union, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has published fresh data revealing a stark reality for the global travel industry amid small waves of optimism.

A global survey of UNWTO tourism experts conducted in May 2021 on the recovery of travel shows a slight uptick in confidence with 60 percent saying they expect to see a rebound in international tourism by 2022, versus just 50 percent in an earlier January 2021 survey.

In spite of this slight boost in confidence, nearly half of respondents said that they did not expect international tourism to return to 2019 levels until 2024 or later. Similarly, 37 percent fewer respondents now believe 2023 could be a full recovery year.

The varying opinions among UNWTO tourism experts as to when they expect to see international tourism rebound within their respective regions are telling of the fragmented travel ecosystem the industry continues to experience:

  • 67 percent of Middle Eastern respondents expect a rebound in Q4 2021
  • 69 percent of respondents in the Americans expect to see a rebound by 2022
  • 47 percent of European respondents expect a rebound by 2022
  • 75 percent of Asia respondents expect to see a rebound in 2022

“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,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of UNWTO.

The tourism body’s latest data also revealed that international tourist arrivals were down 83 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

With vaccine distribution and uptake lagging in numerous parts of the world, not to mention ongoing entry bans and restrictions in light of Covid variants and a lack of coordinated global travel protocols, international travel will continue to take a back seat to backyard tourism.


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Tags: coronavirus, coronavirus recovery, unwto

Photo credit: UNWTO's latest survey reveals experts don't expect to see international tourism return to 2019 levels until 2024. Marco Verch / Flickr Commons

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