According to the latest “UNWTO World Tourism Barometer,” international tourism witnessed a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded. This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half (46 percent) of pre-pandemic 2019 levels.
“The recovery of tourism has gathered pace in many parts of the world, weathering the challenges standing in its way,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary-general, UNWTO. At the same time, he also advised caution in view of the “economic headwinds and geopolitical challenges which could impact the sector in the remainder of 2022 and beyond.”
Europe recorded more than four times as many international arrivals as in the first five months of 2021 (+350 percent), bolstered by strong intra-regional demand and the elimination of travel restrictions in a growing number of nations. The region witnessed robust performance in April (+458 percent), reflecting a busy Easter period. In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled (+112 percent); however, the strong rebound is measured against weak results in 2021, and arrivals remain overall 36 percent and 40 percent below 2019 levels in both regions, respectively.
The same pattern is seen across other regions. The strong growth in the Middle East (+157 percent) and Africa (+156 percent) remained 54 percent and 50 percent below 2019 levels respectively, and Asia and the Pacific almost doubled arrivals (+94 percent), though numbers were 90 percent below 2019, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel. Here, the recent easing of restrictions can be seen in improved results for April and May.
Looking at sub-regions, several have recovered between 70 percent and 80 percent of their pre-pandemic levels, led by the Caribbean and Central America, followed by Southern Mediterranean, Western and Northern Europe. Some destinations even surpassed 2019 levels, including U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, the Republic of Moldova, Albania, Honduras and Puerto Rico.
Rising tourism spending out of the major source markets is consistent with the observed recovery. International expenditure by tourists from France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. is at 70-85 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while spending from India, Saudi Arabia and Qatar has already surpassed 2019 levels.
In terms of international tourism receipts earned in destinations, a growing number of countries—Moldova, Serbia, Seychelles, Romania, North Macedonia, Saint Lucia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Mexico, Croatia and Portugal—have fully recovered their pre-pandemic levels. Strong demand during the Northern Hemisphere summer season is likely to consolidate these positive results, particularly as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions. As of July 22, 62 destinations (of which 39 are in Europe) had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place and an increasing number of destinations in Asia have started to ease theirs.
Per the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the overall reduction in international air capacity in 2022 will be limited to 20 to 25 percent of seats offered by airlines as compared to 2019. Such resilience is also reflected in hotel occupancy rates. Based on data from the industry benchmarking firm STR, global occupancy rates climbed to 66 percent in June 2022, from 43 percent in January.
That said, stronger-than-expected demand has created substantial operational and workforce challenges, while the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, besides fears of an economic slowdown continue to pose a risk to recovery. The International Monetary Fund points to a global economic slowdown from 6.1 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and to 2.9 percent in 2023. At the same time, UNWTO continues to work closely with the World Health Organization to monitor the pandemic as well as emerging public health emergencies and their potential impact on travel.
UNWTO’s forward-looking scenarios published in May 2022 point to international arrivals reaching 55-70 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Results depend on evolving circumstances, mostly changing travel restrictions, ongoing inflation, including high energy prices, and overall economic conditions, the evolution of the war in Ukraine, as well as the health situation related to the pandemic. Other factors that could also impact international tourism numbers include more recent challenges such as staff shortages, airport congestion, flight delays and cancellations.
Scenarios by region show Europe and the Americas recording the best tourism results in 2022, while Asia and the Pacific is expected to lag behind due to more restrictive travel policies. International tourist arrivals in Europe could climb to 65 percent or 80 percent of 2019 levels in 2022, depending on various conditions, while in the Americas they could reach 63-76 percent of those levels.
In Africa and the Middle East, arrivals could reach about 50-70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while in Asia and the Pacific they would remain at 30 percent of 2019 levels in the best-case scenario, due to stricter policies and restrictions.