The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has reported an upswing in demand for international tourism in the third quarter of 2021, as part of its regular World Tourism Barometer.
The Barometer found that international overnight tourist arrivals increased by 58 per cent between July and September, compared with the same period in 2020.
However, levels remain 64 per cent below the figures for Q3 2019, due to the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and UNWTO says that overall international tourist arrivals for 2021 are expected to remain 70 to 75 per cent below 2019 levels.
Europe records the best relative performance for Q3
The increased demand for the quarter was driven primarily by European countries. Europe recorded the best relative performance in the third quarter, with international arrivals down only 53 per cent on Q3 2019 figures. Arrivals for August and September were -63 per cent compared with 2019 – the best monthly results since the start of the pandemic.
The upswing follows poor demand for the first half of 2021, which saw demand fall below 2020 figures. While figures for the first half of the year showed international tourist arrivals stood at -54 per cent for the six-month period compared with 2020, figures for January to September 2021 now stand at just -20 per cent compared with 2020.
In some regions, including Southern and Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean and North and Central America, arrivals rose above 2020 levels for the first nine months of 2021. Additionally, some Caribbean and South Asian islands, as well as some destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe, reported their best performance in Q3, reporting arrival figures close to or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
The Americas recorded the strongest inbound results in January to September, with arrivals up one per cent compared to 2020 but still 65 per cent below 2019 levels. The Caribbean recorded the strongest results by subregion with arrivals up 55 per cent compared to the same period in 2020, though still 38 per cent below 2019.
Growing consumer confidence drives rising demand
The uplift in demand was driven by increased traveller confidence, vaccine rollouts worldwide, and the easing of travel restrictions in many destinations.
UNWTO highlights the effect of initiatives such as the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate, which has facilitated free movement within EU countries.
Revenues from international tourism are forecast to reach between US$700-800 billion in 2021, a small improvement for 2020 but less than half the $1.7 trillion recorded in 2019. The economic contribution of tourism is estimated at $1.9 trillion in 2021 in tourism direct gross domestic product, well below the pre-pandemic value of $3.5 trillion.
Tourism spending continues to recover
Tourism spending per trip has also increased significantly, with international receipts expected to rise to $1,500 for 2021, from an average of $1,000 per arrival in 2019 to $1,300 in 2020.
Currently available data on international tourism receipts shows that Mexico recorded the same earnings in Q3 2021 as in 2019, while Turkey (-20 per cent), France (-27 per cent) and Germany (-37 per cent) posted comparatively smaller declines compared with earlier in the year. Outbound travel reported moderately better results, with France and Germany reportion -28 per cent and -33 per cent respectively in international tourism expenditure during the third quarter.
This is part due to both pent-up demand and increased savings accumulated by travellers over the previous year due to lockdown measures. However, higher spending is also the result of longer stays and rising transport and accommodation prices.
Global tourism recovery remains unevenly spread
However, despite the improved health of the global tourism industry, UNWTO warns that the pace of recovery remains slow and uneven in many parts of the world due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence.
Europe (-53 per cent) and the Americas (-60 per cent) enjoyed an improved outlook during the third quarter. Among the larger destinations, Croatia (-19 per cent), Mexico (-20 per cent) and Turkey (-35 per cent) posted the best results in July-September 2021.
However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remain 95 per cent below their 2019 figures due to the continued closure of many destinations to non-essential travel. Africa also reported a 74 per cent drop in the third quarter compared with 2019, and the Middle East experienced an 81 per cent fall for the period.
Threats to a fragile recovery
Despite recent reports, the report warns that uneven vaccination rates and new Covid-19 strains could jeopardise the travel industry’s fragile recovery. Additionally, the economic strain of the pandemic could also weigh on travel demand, as could recent spikes in oil prices and supply chain disruption.
UNWTO says that the ‘the safe resumption of international tourism will continue to depend largely on a coordinated response among countries in terms of travel restrictions, harmonized safety and hygiene protocols and effective communication to help restore consumer confidence.’
“Data for the third quarter of 2021 is encouraging,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “However, arrivals are still 76 per cent below pre-pandemic levels and results across the different global regions remain uneven.”
In light of the rising cases and the emergence of new variants, he added that ‘we cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector’.