According to UN Tourism, after a strong 2023, the sector is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024
According to the first UNWTO World Tourism Barometer of the year, international tourism ended 2023 at 88% of pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals. The release of remaining pent-up demand, increased air connectivity and a stronger recovery in Asian markets and destinations are expected to underpin a full recovery by the end of 2024.
The Middle East, Europe and Africa had the best results in 2023
The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer provides a comprehensive overview of the sector’s performance in 2023, tracking the recovery by global region, subregion and destination. Key takeaways include:
The Middle East led the recovery in relative terms as the only region to exceed pre-pandemic levels with arrivals 22% higher than in 2019.
Europe, the world’s most visited region, reached 94% of 2019 levels, supported by intra-regional demand and travel from the United States.
Africa recovered 96% of pre-pandemic visitors and America reached 90%.
Asia and the Pacific reached 65% of pre-pandemic levels after the reopening of several markets and destinations. However, performance is mixed: South Asia is already recovering to 87% of 2019 levels and Northeast Asia around 55%.
Available data shows that several destinations, both large and established and small and emerging, recorded double-digit growth in international arrivals in 2023 compared to 2019. Four subregions exceeded their 2019 arrival levels: Southern Mediterranean, Europe and the Caribbean. , Central America and North Africa.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says: “The latest UNWTO data underlines the resilience and rapid recovery of tourism, with pre-pandemic figures expected by the end of 2024. The recovery is already having a significant impact “in economies, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities. Everywhere. These figures also remind us of the critical task of advancing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development.”
International tourism will reach $1.4 trillion by 2023
The latest UNWTO data also highlights the economic impact of the recovery.
International tourism revenues reached $1.4 trillion in 2023 according to preliminary estimates, around 93% of the $1.5 trillion earned by destinations in 2019.
Total export earnings from tourism (including passenger transport) are estimated at $1.6 trillion in 2023, almost 95% of the $1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.
Preliminary estimates on the economic contribution of tourism, measured in direct gross domestic product (GDP) of tourism, point to $3.3 trillion in 2023, or 3% of global GDP. This indicates a recovery in pre-pandemic GDPD driven by strong national and international tourism.
Several destinations recorded strong growth in international tourism receipts during the first ten to twelve months of 2023, in some cases outpacing growth in arrivals. Several large outbound markets also saw strong demand for outbound travel during this period, with many exceeding 2019 levels.
The sustained recovery is also reflected in the performance of industry indicators. According to the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker, both international air capacity and passenger demand have recovered around 90% of pre-pandemic levels through October 2023 (IATA). Global occupancy rates in accommodation establishments reached 65% in November, slightly above 62% in November 2022 (according to STR data).
Looking ahead to 2024
International tourism is expected to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024, with initial estimates pointing to 2% growth above 2019 levels. This central UNWTO forecast remains subject to the pace of the recovery in Asia and the evolution of existing economic and geopolitical risks.
The positive outlook is reflected in the latest UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index survey, where 67% of tourism professionals indicate better or much better prospects for 2024 compared to 2023. Around 28% expect similar performance , while only 6% expect tourism performance in 2024 to be better. worse than last year. Key considerations include:
There is still significant room for recovery across Asia. The reopening of several source markets and destinations will drive recovery in the region and globally.
Chinese outbound and inbound tourism is expected to accelerate in 2024, due to visa facilitation and improved air capacity. China is implementing visa-free travel for citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia for one year until November 30, 2024.
Visa and travel facilitation measures will promote travel to and around the Middle East and Africa with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to implement a unified tourist visa, similar to the Schengen visa, and measures to facilitate trips within Africa in Kenya and Rwanda. .
Europe is expected to return to results in 2024. In March, Romania and Bulgaria will join the Schengen free movement area, and Paris will host the Summer Olympics in July and August.
Strong travel from the United States, supported by a strong US dollar, will continue to benefit destinations in the Americas and beyond. As in 2023, strong source markets in Europe, the Americas and the Middle East will continue to drive tourism flows and spending around the world.
Economic and geopolitical obstacles continue to pose significant challenges to the sustained recovery of international tourism and confidence levels. Persistent inflation, high interest rates, oil price volatility, and trade disruptions may continue to impact transportation and accommodation costs in 2024.
In this context, tourists are expected to increasingly look for good value for money and travel closer to home. Sustainable practices and adaptability will also play an increasingly important role in consumer choice.
Staff shortages remain a critical issue as tourism businesses face a labor shortage to cope with high demand.
The evolution of the Hamas-Israel conflict may disrupt travel in the Middle East and affect traveler confidence. Uncertainty stemming from Russian aggression against Ukraine, as well as other rising geopolitical tensions, continue to weigh on confidence.
Source: UN Tourism.