According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourism continued to show strong signs of recovery.
International tourist arrivals almost tripled from January to July 2022 (+172%); reaching 57% of pre-pandemic levels – nearly 60% of pre-pandemic levels.
The steady recovery reflects the strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date (86 countries had no COVID-19 related restrictions as of September 19, 2022).
UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Tourism continues to recover steadily, but several challenges remain, from geopolitics to economics. The sector brings hope and opportunity to people around the world. It’s also a time to rethink tourism, where it’s going and how it impacts people and the planet.
An estimated 474 million tourists traveled abroad during the period, compared to 175 million in the same months of 2021. An estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, i.e. more than double the number seen in the same two months last year. . These months account for 44% of total arrivals recorded in the first seven months of 2022. Europe received 309 million of these arrivals, or 65% of the total.
Lead recovery in Europe and the Middle East
Europe and the Middle East showed the fastest recovery in January-July 2022, with arrivals reaching 74% and 76% of 2019 levels respectively. Europe welcomed nearly three times as many international arrivals than in the first seven months of 2021 (+190%), with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. The region recorded particularly robust performances in June (-21% compared to 2019) and July (-16%), reflecting a busy summer period. Arrivals reached around 85% of 2019 levels in July. The lifting of travel restrictions in a large number of destinations also fueled these results (44 countries in Europe had no COVID-19 related restrictions as of September 19, 2022).
The Middle East saw international arrivals almost quadruple year-on-year in January-July 2022 (+287%). Arrivals exceeded pre-pandemic levels in July (+3%), boosted by the extraordinary results posted by Saudi Arabia (+121%) following the Hajj pilgrimage.
The Americas (+103%) and Africa (+171%) also recorded strong growth in January-July 2022 compared to 2021, reaching 65% and 60% of 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific (+165%) saw arrivals more than double in the first seven months of 2022, although they remained 86% below 2019 levels as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel.
Sub-regions and destinations
Several sub-regions reached 70% to 85% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-July 2022. Southern Mediterranean Europe (-15% compared to 2019), the Caribbean (-18%) and the Central America (-20%) showed the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. Western Europe (-26%) and Northern Europe (-27%) also performed well. In July, arrivals approached pre-pandemic levels in the Caribbean (-5%), Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-6%) and Central America (-8%).
Among destinations reporting international arrivals data in the first five to seven months of 2022, those exceeding pre-pandemic levels were: US Virgin Islands (+32% from 2019), Albania (+19 %), Saint-Martin (+15%), Ethiopia and Honduras (+13% each), Andorra (+10%), Puerto Rico (+7%), United Arab Emirates and Dominican Republic (+3% each), San Marino and El Salvador (+1% each) and Curaçao (0%).
Among destinations reporting data on international tourism receipts in the first five to seven months of 2022, Serbia (+73%), Sudan (+64%), Romania (+43%), Albania (+32%), North Macedonia (+24%), Pakistan (+18%), Turkey, Bangladesh and Latvia (all +12%), Mexico and Portugal (both +8% ), Kenya (+5%) and Colombia (+2%) all exceeded pandemic levels in January-July 2022.
Tourism spending increases but challenges increase
The ongoing recovery can also be seen in outbound spending from key source markets. France’s spending climbed to -12% in January-July 2022 compared to 2019 while Germany’s spending climbed to -14%. International tourism spending was -23% in Italy and -26% in the United States.
Strong performance was also recorded in international air passenger traffic, with a 234% increase in January-July 2022 (45% below 2019 levels) and a recovery of some 70% from pre-traffic levels. the pandemic in July, according to IATA.
Stronger-than-expected demand has also created significant operational and labor challenges in tourism businesses and infrastructure, particularly airports. In addition, the economic situation, exacerbated by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, represents a major downside risk. The combination of rising interest rates in all major economies, rising energy and food prices and the growing prospect of a global recession, as indicated by the World Bank, poses a threat major for the recovery of international tourism through 2022 and 2023. The potential slowdown is visible in the latest UNWTO Confidence Index, which reflects a more cautious outlook, as well as in booking trends which show signs of slowing of growth.
Tourism experts cautiously confident
On a scale of 0 to 200, UNWTO’s panel of tourism experts rated the period May-August 2022 with a score of 125, matching the optimistic expectations expressed by the panel in the May survey for the same 4 month period (124).
The outlook for the rest of the year is cautiously optimistic. Although above-average performance is expected, tourism experts rated the September-December 2022 period with a score of 111, below the previous four months’ score of 125, showing declining confidence levels. Almost half of experts (47%) see a positive outlook for the September-December 2022 period, while 24% expect no particular change and 28% believe it could be worse. Experts also seem confident about 2023, as 65% see better tourism performance than 2022.
The uncertain economic environment, however, appears to have reversed the outlook for a return to pre-pandemic levels in the near term. Some 61% of experts now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2024 or later, while those indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 have fallen (27%) from the May survey (48%). According to experts, the economic environment continues to be the main factor weighing on the recovery of international tourism. Rising inflation and soaring oil prices drive up transportation and accommodation costs, while putting pressure on consumers’ purchasing power and savings.