Coming off the worst year in tourism history, 2021 was off to a slow start as well, as travel remained subdued in the face of surging COVID infections. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals were down 83 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. Following an estimated $1.3 trillion loss in export revenue in 2020, travel restrictions largely remained in place through the first months of 2021, as governments were desperately trying to curb the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the novel coronavirus.
While the brief rebound in the summer months of 2020 had fueled hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism sector, those hopes were quickly dashed by the fall/winter wave of the pandemic. Six months into 2021, with vaccination campaigns well underway and case numbers receding in many countries, a sense of optimism is gradually returning as the tourism industry has its eyes set on the upcoming summer season. According to a recent UNWTO survey, travel experts remain cautious in their outlook, however, with the vast majority not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.
“There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, pointing out the key role of vaccinations on the road to recovery. He also urged governments to “improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable” in order to facilitate a travel rebound this summer. Among the experts surveyed, 16 percent expect a significant uptick in Q3 2021, 22 percent think the rebound will come in the fourth quarter and 60 percent don’t expect a meaningful recovery before 2022.
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