As the pandemic continues to loom, travel is yet to pick momentum to reach its pre-pandemic levels. Between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85 per cent below 2019 levels (or a 65 per cent drop on 2020), UNWTO data shows. Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of COVID-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel. Meanwhile, domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world.
The latest UNWTO data shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than pre-pandemic year of 2019. However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82 per cent (versus May 2019), after falling by 86 per cent in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.
Rebuild trust to restart tourism
“Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
By regions, Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the largest decline with a 95 per cent drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. Europe (-85 per cent) recorded the second largest decline in arrivals, followed by the Middle East (-83 per cent) and Africa (-81 per cent). The Americas (-72 per cent) saw a comparatively smaller decrease.
In June, the number of destinations with complete closure of borders decreased to 63 from 69 in February. Of these, 33 were in Asia and the Pacific, while just seven in Europe, the region with the fewest restrictions on travel currently in place.
Mixed outlook for remainder of 2021
International tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to reimpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. However, vaccination programs around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travelers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.
In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets. Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the United States is strengthening further.
Digital Tools to Revitalize Tourism
The organization recently signed an agreement with MUST Travel & Tech to restart of tourism based on sustainability and innovation. The digital tool allows users to share their experiences to promote the reactivation of the sector with a view to sustainability. Presented during the UNWTO Mayors’ Forum in Porto, Portugal, the tool is an opportunity for the advancement of smart cities, as well as destinations that incorporate technology and innovation in their development.
“We welcome innovative ideas and technologies that allow the creation of global and regional innovation ecosystems aimed at accelerating the recovery of tourism for development,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili upon signing the agreement.
A distinctive element will be the contribution of tourism intelligence from the UNWTO to the users of the tool. In this way, relevant and verified content is combined with data for making informed and evidence-based decisions.
The agreement provides for cooperation in the execution of projects that include, among others:
- Supporting the digital transformation of tourism service providers.
- Fostering tourism development and promotion in a sustainable and inclusive way.
- Boosting innovation in the practices of reservation and consumption of tourism experiences and activities.
- Encouraging the creation of quality content with a focus on cultural heritage and the authenticity of the destination to be promoted.
- Promoting and disseminate the UNWTO “Best Tourism Villages” program on the MUST platform as well as other programs or events of the Organization.
- Promoting programs related to innovation, education and investments that are useful for tourism destinations of mutual interest.
The agreement between UNWTO and MUST will be in place until the end of 2024.