Analysis: When will tourism rebound?

by Ajay Prakash
People waiting at the airport

Are you wondering when the tourism industry will rebound and you can go for that long awaited holiday? The other day I was reading a tweet from Flightradar24 that compared low-cost carrier (LCC) traffic (2019 vs. 2020) over Europe during the month of January. There we less than 10 percent of flights in the air this year as compared to 2019 (See Fig.1).

Air Traffic Comparison January 2019 vs 2020

Fig. 1 – European low-cost carrier traffic now vs one year ago ©Flightradar24

It is a well established fact that LCC’s or Budget Airlines have been complementing the tourism world over. In Europe and the Asia Pacific region, people mobility is higher mainly because of the low-cost carriers. The LCC market share in 2019 stood at thirty-one percent (31%). If LCC’s are not flying, then it is a huge indicator that the tourists are not venturing out.

2020 Has Been the Worst Year

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2020 has been the worst year for tourism. International arrivals dropped by a whopping 74%. This reduction translated to 1 billion fewer tourists last year.  UNWTO says that the collapse of international tourism accounted for an export revenue loss of USD 1.3 trillion. The industry-wide job losses were in the range of 100 – 120 million.

Compare this with the global economic crisis of 2009 when tourist arrivals were down only 4%.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over.”

World Tourism Recovery Tracker

UNWTO has launched a new Tourism Recovery Tracker to support global tourism. The tracker monitors many indicators related to the industry.

UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker Screenshot

Fig. 2 – UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker

Figure 2 shows the tracker dashboard. Almost all the indicators are facing headwinds and indicate a long road to recovery. For more information, follow the link  https://www.unwto.org/unwto-tourism-recovery-tracker.

We analyse two key performance indicators. Firstly, the International Tourist Arrivals are down 74% from 2019 levels. Asia Pacific (-84%) region has been the worst affected by the pandemic. The Middle East and Africa, showed a decline of over 70%. Arrivals reduced in Europe by 70% too despite a small increase during the last summer of 2020. The Americas saw a 69% decrease in international arrivals.

Two graphs showing International Tourist Arrival and Airline Seat Capacity

Fig 3. – International Tourist Arrivals and Airline Seat Capacity – ©IATA

Secondly, the Airline Seat Capacity is down by 63% in 2020 when compared to 2019. The Asia Pacific remains the worst affected (-69%) followed by Europe (-62%) and Middle East (-62%). Fewer flights means fewer passengers.

When Will Tourism Rebound To 2019 Levels?

The organization conducted a global survey among its Panel of Tourism Experts to get opinions on expected time of recovery. See Figure 4 for a summary of the results of the survey.

Tourism rebound survey result graphs

Fig. 4 – Tourism Rebound Survey Results (World) ©UNWTO, Published: 26/01/2021

The prospects of tourism rebounding in 2021 look bleak. UNWTO’s survey respondents indicate that it could take two-and-a-half (2023 to 2024) to three years  more for the industry to return to 2019 levels. Which takes us to 2024. This is not good news at all!

When do you see tourists back in your country? We would love to hear from you. Do write back in the comments section.

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