With the return of tourists will come the return on lines Photo: AFP/File

Global tourism recovering, but not back to pre-pandemic levels


Global tourism is roaring back to life despite COVID travel headaches and the effects of the war in Ukraine, but it has yet to return to its pre-pandemic health.

International tourist arrivals worldwide have more than doubled, up 130 percent in January 2022 on the same period last year, according to the latest U.N. World Tourism Organization figures.

Travelers are regaining confidence, and Europe and the Americas are leading the resurgence.

Worldwide, there have been 18 million additional visitors, the UNWTO said, "equivalent to the total increase recorded over the whole of 2021".

In 2019, global tourism revenues reached $1.48 trillion. That figure dropped by almost two thirds due to the pandemic the following year.

While January confirms the recovery trend that began in 2021, the UNWTO highlighted how the Omicron COVID variant recently put the brakes on the rise. International arrivals in January 2022 were still 67 percent lower than before the pandemic.

Most regions have seen travelers return and rebound from the low levels of early 2021, with Europe faring three times better and the Americas twice as well.

That's still some way off pre-pandemic numbers, but Larry Cuculic, general manager of the Best Western hotel company, is optimistic.

"I traveled earlier this week and I can tell you that the airports, the international terminals in the U.S. are very crowded and there is a demand or an interest in traveling to Europe, because for several years we couldn't do that," he told AFP. "We miss going to Paris, Rome and Berlin."

The Middle East is also experiencing a boom, with arrivals up 89 percent on 2021, and so is Africa, with numbers up 51 percent -- but these two regions are still very far from their 2019 totals, according to the UNWTO.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of travelers is falling in the Asia-Pacific region, where several destinations remain closed. In January, international tourist arrivals were down 93 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

Travel by Chinese tourists, the world's biggest spenders before the pandemic, is also severely affected by China's zero-COVID policy.

According to travel analyst ForwardKeys, the second quarter of 2022 still looks "more promising for international travel in the world than the first quarter".

The Caribbean and South America are drawing tourists looking for sea and sunshine in the northern hemisphere summer. Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Aruba and Jamaica are among the 20 most popular destinations, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

In Europe, tourists are flocking to France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Iceland, but not in the same numbers as before COVID.

France is doing well enough, though. In February, international tourism revenues in the country "came close to those of 2019", according to France's tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

At 2.7 billion euros ($2.8 billion), revenues were up 1.5 billion compared to last year and down eight percent compared to 2019, he told reporters.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the tourism sector in France represented 7.4 percent of GDP and 9.5 percent of jobs.

According to Lemoyne, France is "very well positioned" as the "number one destination for travel in Europe for Americans, Belgians, Italians and Spaniards".

The French, for their part, are "a European exception", the minister said, pointing out that 60 percent plan to stay in their own country over the holidays.

"With a domestic base that will remain very strong and the return of international customers, this means that we are in for a summer season that can be very, very dynamic," he said.

But Didier Arino, director of the Protourisme consultancy, warned there could be trouble ahead.

"It is not the market that is going to be problematic, it is the cost of production of tourist stays, competitiveness, the suitability between the prices of products and purchasing power," he said. "The players are all increasing their prices, and right now it is going well because people want to enjoy themselves. But we are reaching the limit of what is acceptable for many customers."

© 2022 AFP

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Early days yet. Most people still book holidays some time in advance, so the process of recovery will take up to a year. Chinese tourists may not be returning, so drop them from all the figures when comparing pre- and post-pandemic numbers if you want a clearer picture of how the revival is going. Although some travellers may change their plans due to inflation, a lot will still book an annual family holiday and trim elsewhere as required. For many, especially long haul, it won't be an issue. If you can spend that sort of cash on a holiday, a larger energy bill isn't going to affect your plans.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Global tourism recovering

Not including Japan…….

It doesn’t help when airline tickets cost 5-10X more than they were in 2019.

The ¥130 yen to $1 usd rate definitely makes things difficult.

Also the lack of direct flights into Japan outside of Tokyo and Osaka, keeps many from flying out.

Good job, Japan. Keep up the good work.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I work in hospitality and we don't expect things to reach previous tourism levels for 5 years at the bare minimum, and we have plans for longer.

Even if every government drops all travel restrictions tomorrow, it will be much longer before people are willing to travel. Whether that is because they don't have the disposable income right now, or simply that they don't feel safe enough to travel yet. Nevermind how many hotels and businesses reliant on tourism have already had to shutter. Some people probably will never feel as comfortable traveling as they did before.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

People are still nervous that govts may change their entry and exit policies at the drop of a hat or resurgence of Covid in this instance. People want certainty that if they book and pay for fares and hotels they won't be left with a large hole in their bank account if the country they are visiting bars entry at the last minute.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Getting on a plane is a crapshoot that most people just cannot afford to take.

Coming back to Japan in 2021 and again in 2022 found the rules and quarantine regulations quite different.

Its always a pain going through immigration and being fingerprinted and then customs where ‘everyone’ is questioned to some degree.

However, the lack of quarantining that I experienced abroad in several different countries was not what Japan was/is doing.

Two weeks in an hotel or 3 days at home or maybe 7 days?

it’s hard to know what the roll of the dice will determine.

I do not mind being at home but the business hotel incarceration is akin to being in a prison.

Who knows when the rules will change again for some arbitrary reason?

-2 ( +4 / -6 )


UK airports have long queues as the airlines can't recruit staff fast enough to cope with the demand. Tour companies have responded with customs fast tracking options. Demand is high for holidays.

Japan is suppressing its own tourist industry for political reasons. People who would have gone there will now be looking for other destinations, so any Asian nations that drop quarantining requirements and open up will be able to grab a chunk of Japan's multi-billion dollar market. That is a huge sack of cash, ripe for the picking. After enjoying a holiday, folk often return, so once diverted, that revenue stream may become annual.

The hotels that have shuttered are inflating the occupancy of those that survived. The elderly may be more nervous about travelling, so the industry may change shape a little.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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