September 26, 2022
International tourism continued to show strong signs of recovery, with arrivals reaching approximately 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels in the first seven months of 2022.
According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals almost tripled in January to July 2022 (+172%) compared to the same period of 2021. This means the sector recovered almost 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels. The steady recovery reflects strong pent-up demand for international travel as well as the easing or lifting of travel restrictions to date.
According to the UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili, “Tourism continues to recover steadily, yet several challenges remain, from geopolitical to economic. The sector is bringing back hope and opportunity for people everywhere. Now is also the time to rethink tourism, where it is going and how it impacts people and planet.”
An estimated 474 million tourists traveled internationally over the period, compared to the 175 million in the same months of 2021. An estimated 207 million international arrivals were recorded in June and July 2022 combined, over twice the numbers seen in the same two months last year. These months represent 44 percent of the total arrivals recorded in the first seven months of 2022. Europe welcomed 309 million of these arrivals, accounting for 65 percent of the total.
International and sub-regional arrivals
Europe and the Middle East showed the fastest recovery in January-July 2022, with arrivals reaching 74 and 76 percent of 2019 levels respectively. The Americas (+103%) and Africa (+171%) also recorded strong growth in January-July 2022 compared to 2021, reaching 65 and 60 percent of 2019 levels respectively. Asia and the Pacific (+165%) saw arrivals more than double in the first seven months of 2022, though they remained 86 percent below 2019 levels, as some borders remained closed to non-essential travel.
Several subregions reached 70 to 85 percent of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-July 2022. Southern Mediterranean Europe (-15% over 2019), the Caribbean (-18%) and Central America (-20%) showed the fastest recovery towards 2019 levels. Western Europe (-26%) and Northern Europe (-27%) also posted strong results. In July arrivals came close to pre-pandemic levels in the Caribbean (-5%), Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-6%) and Central America (-8%).
Tourism spending rises amid challenges
The ongoing recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets. Expenditure from France climbed to -12 percent in January-July 2022 compared to 2019 while spending from Germany rose to -14%. International tourism spending stood at -23 percent in Italy and -26 percent in the United States.
Robust performance was also recorded in international passenger air traffic, with a 234 percent increase in January-July 2022 (45% below 2019 levels) and a recovery of some 70 percent of pre-pandemic traffic levels in July, according to IATA.
Stronger-than-expected demand has also created important operational and workforce challenges in tourism companies and infrastructure, particularly airports. Additionally, the economic situation, exacerbated by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, represents a major downside risk. The combination of increasing interest rates in all major economies, rising energy and food prices and the growth prospects of a global recession as indicated by the World Bank, are major threats to the recovery of international tourism through the remainder of 2022 and 2023. The potential slowdown can be seen in the latest UNWTO Confidence Index, which reflects a more cautious outlook, as well as in booking trends which are showings signs of slower growth.
Prospects for the remainder of the year are cautiously optimistic. Although above-average performance is expected, tourism experts rated the period September-December 2022 with a score of 111, below the 125 score of the previous four months, showing a downgrade in confidence levels. Almost half of the experts (47%) see positive prospects for the period September-December 2022, while 24 percent expect no particular change and 28% consider it could be worse. Experts also seem confident about 2023, as 65 percent see better tourism performance than in 2022.
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