Global tourist arrivals continue strong rebound in first quarter to reach 97% of pre-pandemic levels: Moodie Davitt Report

INTERNATIONAL. Tourist arrivals worldwide increased by +20% year-on-year to reach 97% of the figures recorded in 2019 before the pandemic, according to the latest World Tourism Barometer of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The number of tourists traveling internationally during the first three months of the year rose to 285 million, reflecting the strong rebound in global tourism, which is expected to surpass 2019 levels by the end of the year.

International arrivals in several regions continue to recover to pre-pandemic levels as global tourism is expected to fully recover by the end of the year {Images courtesy of UNWTO}

The strong recovery was led by the Middle East, which recorded a +4% year-on-year increase in international arrivals in the first quarter, surpassing pre-pandemic figures by +36%. The region recorded the most notable improvement last year, becoming the first to return to pre-pandemic numbers.

In Europe, the most visited destination in the world, international arrivals exceeded 2019 levels for the first time (+1% compared to the first quarter of 2019). The region received 120 million international tourists in the January-April period, supported by intraregional demand.

Tourist arrivals to Africa were +5% higher than in the first quarter of 2019 and +13% year-on-year.

In the Americas, tourist arrivals have recovered to 99% of 2019 levels.

Asia Pacific saw a rapid recovery in global tourism, with arrivals reaching 82% of pre-pandemic levels, after recovering to 65% in 2023.

UN Secretary-General of Tourism Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The recovery of the sector is very welcome news for our economies and the livelihoods of millions of people. However, it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, with the aim of promoting sustainability and inclusion, while addressing externalities and the impact of the sector on resources and communities.

By subregion, North Africa led growth in the first quarter, with international arrivals reaching 23% of pre-pandemic numbers. They were followed by Central America (+8%), the Caribbean and Western Europe (both +7%).

Tourist arrivals to Southern Mediterranean Europe exceeded pre-pandemic levels by +1%, while South America almost returned to 2019 levels. Northern Europe reached 98% of 2019 figures , while sub-Saharan Africa and North America recovered 95%.

Data cited by UNWTO suggests that many destinations around the world continued to achieve strong results in the first quarter of 2024, including Qatar (+177% vs. Q1 2019), Albania (+121%), Saudi Arabia (+ 98%), Tanzania (+53%), Curacao (+45%), Serbia (+43%), Turks and Caicos (+42%), Guatemala (+41%) and Bulgaria (+38%).

The solid growth of global tourism was also reflected in the UN Tourism Confidence Index, which reached 130 points (on a scale of 0 to 200) for the January-April period, above expectations (122). expressed for this period in mid-January. .

The latest UNWTO data highlights the economic impact of the recovery. International tourism revenues reached $1.5 trillion in 2023, marking a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, but 97% in real terms, adjusted for inflation.

Several regions recorded strong increases in international tourism revenue during the year, with Europe generating the highest revenue in 2023, with destinations earning $660 billion, +7% above pre-pandemic levels in real terms.

Middle East airports, including King Khalid International in Riyadh, continue to welcome increasing numbers of passengers amid the current travel boom.

Revenue in the Middle East increased by +33%, surpassing the figures recorded in 2019. The Americas recovered 96% of their pre-pandemic revenue in 2023 and Africa 95%. Asia Pacific returned 78% of its pre-crisis revenues, a notable result compared to its 65% recovery in arrivals last year.

The strong rebound in global travel demand is also reflected in the significant growth in total export earnings from international tourism, including both revenue and passenger transportation, which reached US$1.7 trillion in 2023. This figure reached almost 96% of the 2019 figures in real terms.

Direct tourism GDP also rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, reaching an estimated $3.3 trillion last year, equivalent to 3% of global GDP.

Destinations that performed the most notable in terms of tourism revenue during the first quarter compared to 2019 levels (based on available data) included Serbia (+127%), Türkiye (+82%), Pakistan (+72 %), Tanzania (+62%), Portugal (+61%), Romania (+57%), Japan (+53%), Mongolia (+50%), Mauritius (+46%) and Morocco (+44% ).

UNWTO noted a strong increase in tourism revenues in the first quarter of 2024 as passenger traffic accelerated. Pictured above is Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

Looking ahead, strong travel demand, increased air connectivity and a stronger recovery in Asian markets are expected to support a full recovery in global tourism by the end of 2024.

The positive outlook is reflected in the latest UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index survey, amid bright prospects for the upcoming summer season. Almost two-thirds (62%) of tourism professionals suggested better or much better results for May-August compared to the same period last year. Around 31% expect the same performance as in 2023.

Despite the continued recovery of global tourism, the UN Panel of Tourism Experts warned of economic and geopolitical headwinds, which may significantly affect international tourism and confidence levels.

Citing the latest IMF World Economic Outlook (April 2024), ONUMT indicated a “steady but slow” economic recovery, although mixed depending on the region.

Persistent inflation, high interest rates, oil price volatility and trade disruptions are likely to continue to impact transportation and accommodation costs.

UNTWO said: “Tourists are expected to continue looking for value for money and travel closer to home in response to high prices and general economic challenges, while extreme temperatures and other weather events could affect destination choice. of many travelers. The United Nations Tourism Expert Panel increasingly mentions this as a concern for the sector.

“Uncertainty arising from Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Hamas-Israel conflict and other rising geopolitical tensions are also important negative risks for international tourism.

“As international tourism continues to recover and expand, driving economic growth and jobs around the world, governments will need to continue to adapt and improve their tourism management at national and local levels to ensure that communities and residents are in the center of this development. “✈