Tourism Recovery Accelerates to Reach 65% Of Pre-Pandemic Levels

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It is estimated that 700 million tourists traveled internationally between January and September, more than double (+133%) the figure recorded in the same period of 2021. This is equivalent to 63% of 2019 levels and puts the sector on track to reach 65% of its pre-pandemic levels this year, in line with UNWTO scenarios. The results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in a growing number of destinations.

Highlighting the speed at which the sector has recovered from the worst crisis in its history, UNWTO’s latest World Tourism Barometer reveals that monthly arrivals in January 2022 were 64 per cent below 2019 levels and had reached -27 per cent in September. It is estimated that 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50% of the nine-month total.

Europe continues to lead global recovery

Europe continues to lead the upturn in international tourism. The region received 477 million international arrivals between January and September 2022 (68% of the global total), reaching 81% of pre-pandemic levels. This figure was more than double that of 2021 (+126%), with results driven by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. Europe experienced particularly strong results in the third quarter, when arrivals reached almost 90% of 2019 levels.

The Middle East also saw international arrivals more than triple (+225%) year-on-year in January-September 2022, rising to 77% of the pre-pandemic level. Africa (+166%) and the Americas (+106%) also recorded strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63% and 66% of 2019 levels, respectively. In Asia and the Pacific (+230%) arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83% below 2019 levels. China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.

Arrivals and arrivals at or above pre-pandemic levels

Several sub-regions reached between 80% and 90% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022. Western Europe (88%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (86%) recorded the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. The Caribbean, Central America (both with 82%) and Northern Europe (81%) also recorded good results. Among the destinations reporting arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September are Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.

In September, arrivals exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East (+3% compared to 2019) and the Caribbean (+1%) and approached Central America (-7%), Northern Europe (-9%) and Southern Europe and the Mediterranean (-10%).

Meanwhile, some destinations recorded notable increases in international tourism receipts in the first seven to nine months of 2022, including Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Latvia, Portugal, Pakistan, Mexico, Morocco and France. The recovery is also observed in outbound tourism spending in the main source markets, with strong results in France, where spending reached -8% until September, compared to 2019. Other markets reporting heavy spending in the first six to nine months of 2022 were Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia. 

Strong demand for air travel and hotel accommodation

The robust recovery in tourism is also reflected in various industry indicators, such as air capacity and hotel metrics, as reflected in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. Air seat capacity on international routes (measured in available seat-kilometers or ASK) in January-August reached 62% of 2019 levels, with Europe (78%) and the Americas (76%) recording the best results. National capacity worldwide increased to 86% of 2019 levels, and the Middle East (99%) virtually reached pre-pandemic (IATA) levels.

Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66% in September 2022, up from 43% in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels of 77% in September 2022, following rates of 74% in July and August. The Americas (66%), the Middle East (63%) and Africa (61%) recorded occupancy rates above 60% in September. By subregion, Southern Mediterranean Europe (79%), Western Europe (75%) and Oceania (70%) showed the highest occupancy rates in September 2022.

Cautious optimism for the coming months

The difficult economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, aggravated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in the fourth quarter and into 2023. The latest survey by the UNWTO Panel of Experts on Tourism shows a decline in confidence levels for the last quarter of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism. Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the pace of recovery, tourism export revenues could reach between $1.2 trillion and $1.3 trillion in 2022, an increase of 60-70% from 2021, or 70-80% from the $1.8 trillion recorded in 2019.

Source: UNWTO.

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