Skift Take

Some tempered optimism and a reality check from the UNWTO, on the impact of Omicron and vaccine inequity on travel's rebound.

The year 2021 was the second worst year on record for global tourism with international arrivals down by 73 percent, showing a mere one percent increase over 2020. And while there may be optimism ahead, the predictions for 2022 remain a far cry from a return to normalcy: global tourism may only reach 50-63 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

That’s the latest stark data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) at the start of a week that kicks off some of the industry’s key in-person events, including the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR) in Madrid.

UNWTO experts point to Omicron’s disruption of travel with the re-emergence of restrictions that have impacted consumer confidence, as well as vaccine inequality and global economic challenges, as reasons for the ongoing slowdown in recovery. 

Tourism’s economic contribution reached $1.9 trillion in 2021, far short of its $3.5 trillion muscle.

The latest survey of UNWTO global experts also shows 58 percent expect to see a rebound in the third quarter of 2022, while 64 percent now see recovery of international arrivals could take place in 2024 or later — a significant jump from prior predictions on a return to global tourism levels by 2024.

By all accounts, it’s another year of backyard tourism for most regions of the world where domestic travel has dominated the last two years, particularly as a handful of destinations continue to remain closed to non-essential travel and tourism — including China, the Philippines, and Morocco, among others — and as the African continent continues to see the most delay in access to vaccines, placing it at 74 percent below 2019 international arrivals.


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Tags: coronavirus recovery, unwto

Photo credit: Honday Bay island in the Philippines in a pre-pandemic image Ray in Manila / Flickr Commons

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