The world is facing an unprecedented global health, social and economic emergency with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel and tourism is among the most affected sectors with airplanes on the ground, hotels closed and travel restrictions put in place in virtually all countries around the world.
In an unprecedented blow to the tourism sector, the COVID-19 pandemic has cut international tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2020 to a fraction of what they were a year ago.
Available data points to a double-digit decrease of 22% in Q1 2020, with arrivals in March down by 57%. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about USD 80 billion in receipts.
Prospects for the year have been downgraded several times since the outbreak in view of the high level of uncertainty.
Current scenarios point to declines of 58% to 78% in international tourist arrivals for the year, depending on the speed of the containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders, although the outlook remains highly uncertain (the scenarios are not forecasts and should not be interpreted as such).
The scenarios reflect three possible patterns of monthly change in arrivals from April to December 2020 supposing that travel restrictions start to be lifted and national borders opened in early July (Scenario 1: -58%), in early September (Scenario 2: -70%) or in early December (Scenario 3: -78%).
These scenarios would put 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.
This is by far the worst result in the historical series of international tourism since 1950 and would put an abrupt end to a 10-year period of sustained growth since the 2009 financial crisis.
Sentiment expressed by the UNWTO Panel of Experts points to a start of the recovery of international demand mostly in 2021. According to Panel Experts from around the world, domestic demand would recover faster than international demand.
Considerable challenges remain ahead, starting with the unknown duration of the pandemic and travel restrictions, in a context of global economic recession. Countries around the world are implementing a wide range of measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and to stimulate the recovery of the tourism sector.
➔ International tourist numbers could fall 60-80% in 2020, UNWTO reports (7 May 2020)
➔ Impact assessment of COVID-19 outbreak on international tourism (May 2020)