International tourism grows by 130% in January but is still far from 2019

The year 2022 started with a “much better” performance in terms of international tourism, despite the omicron variant, as there was a 130% increase in tourist arrivals worldwide. According to the latest data from the world tourism organization (UNWTO), “the 18 million additional visitors recorded worldwide in the first month of this year is equivalent to the total increase recorded over the whole of 2021”. The best results are seen in Europe and the Americas. The agency acknowledges that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “adds tension to economic uncertainties” and limits forecasts for the rest of the year.

The latest UNWTO Barometer details that tourist arrivals in January 2022 increased by 130%, but the figure is still 67% below pre-COVID levels, after standing at -60% last quarter of 2021. This behavior “follows a massive 71% decline recorded over the whole of 2021.”

All regions of the world rebounded in January 2022, compared to a weak 2021, but Europe and the Americas presented the “strongest” results

Europe welcomed three times more international arrivals than in January 2021 (+199%) and America doubled its arrivals (+97%), according to UNWTO. Compared to 2019, these are the two regions with the smallest declines: -53% and -52%, respectively.

The Middle East (+89%) and Africa (+51%) also recorded an increase in January 2022, but the decline compared to 2019 is more significant: -63% and -69%, respectively. Asia and the Pacific saw a 44% year-on-year increase, which could have been higher as several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel. As a result, the region is recording the largest drop in international arrivals since 2019 (-93%).

Change in arrivals compared to 2019. Source: UNWTO.

By sub-region, the best results were presented in Western Europe, quadrupling the number of arrivals recorded in January 2022 compared to 2021 data, but with 58% less than in 2019, according to UNWTO. The Caribbean (-38%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (-41%) showed the fastest recovery rates compared to 2019.

Several islands in the Caribbean, as well as in Asia and the Pacific, as well as a few smaller destinations in Europe and Central America show the best results compared to 2019: Seychelles (-27%), Bulgaria and Curacao (each -20%), The Savior (-19%), Serbian Yes Maldives (-13% each), Dominican Republic (-11%), Albania (-7%) and Andorra (-3%). Bosnia and Herzegovina (+2%) even exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Among the main destinations, Turkey and Mexico saw declines of 16% and 24%, respectively, compared to 2019

War changes perspectives

During this year 2022, international tourism should “continue its gradual recovery”, after two years affected by the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently 12 destinations that do not have COVID-19 related restrictions and there are a growing number of countries easing travel restrictions “which helps release pent-up demand”.

More information on removing restrictions

-This is how the world opens up to air transport

-Morocco abolishes the obligation of the rapid test for all passengers but not the PCR

-Return from Southeast Asia: Cambodia abolishes COVID tests for vaccinated travelers

-Thailand reopens borders to foreigners vaccinated against COVID

Beyond unleashing pent-up demand, the war in Ukraine poses new challenges and alters initial projections, as the UNWTO stresses that in addition to impacting the economic environment, it could hamper the restoration of confidence in the world.

Source markets in the United States and Asia, which have started to open up, could be particularly affected when it comes to travel to Europe, as these markets are historically more cautious.

Photo: Adobe Stock.

The operating ban imposed by many European countries on Russian airlines and the closure of airspace “affect domestic travel on the continent” and the diversion of long-distance flights between Europe and East Asia. East, “result in longer flights and higher costs”, impacting the travel decision, as published in Europe-Asia Flights: 4 Hours Longer Due to Russian Airspace Shutdown.

UNWTO warns that if the conflict continues, at least $14,000 million (€12,700 million) in global tourism revenue could be lost, since Russia and Ukraine, in 2020, together accounted for 3% of global international tourism expenditure. The importance of both markets is significant for neighboring countries, but also for European sun and beach destinations.

More information on the Russian outbound market

-Which countries are most dependent on Russian tourists?

-Cerrojazo to Russian tourism: the seven most affected destinations in Spain

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that global economic growth this year could be more than 1% lower than previous forecasts, while inflation, already high at the start of the year, could increase by at least 2.5%. Recent rise in oil prices and rising inflation are making accommodation and transportation services more expensive, adding further pressure on businesses, purchasing power and consumer savings, UNWTO concludes .

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