International tourism could shrink by a whopping 60-80 per cent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the revenue loss of USD 910 billion to USD 1.2 trillion and placing millions of livelihoods at risk, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The pandemic, spread across every country on the planet, has so far infected 4.1 million people and killed 282,719 people. The US has been the worst-affected country with 1.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 80,000 deaths.
The global international agency said the pandemic has already caused a 22 per cent fall in international tourist arrivals during the first quarter of 2020.
According to the UN's specialised agency, the global health crisis could lead to an annual tourism decline between 60 per cent and 80 per cent when compared with the 2019 figures.
“This places millions of livelihoods at risk and threatens to roll back progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” it said.
“The world is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis. Tourism has been hit hard, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labour-intensive sectors of the economy,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.
Available data reported by destinations point to a 22 per cent decline in arrivals in the first three months of the year, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
Arrivals in March dropped sharply by 57 per cent following the start of a lockdown in many countries, as well as the widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders. This translates into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about USD 80 billion in receipts (exports from tourism).
Although Asia and the Pacific shows the highest impact in relative and absolute terms (a decline of 33 million arrivals), the impact in Europe, though lower in percentage, is quite high in volume (-22 million), the agency said.
Prospects for the year have been downgraded several times since the outbreak and uncertainty continues to dominate.
Current scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals of 58 per cent to 78 per cent for the year. These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders.
The agency has given three scenarios for 2020 based on possible dates for the gradual opening up of international borders. According to scenario 1, there could be a decline of 58 per cent in arrivals based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions in early July.
Scenario 2 could see a 70 per cent decline if international borders are gradually opened and travel restrictions are eased in early September.
Scenario 3 states that there could be a 78 per cent decline in arrivals based on the gradual opening of international borders and easing of travel restrictions only in early December.
Under these scenarios, the impact of the loss of demand in international travel could translate into loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists, loss of USD 910 billion to USD 1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.
“This is by far the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began (1950). The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first,” the agency said.
Domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand, according to the UNWTO Panel of Experts survey. The majority expects to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021.
Based on previous crises, leisure travel is expected to recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel.
The estimates regarding the recovery of international travel is more positive in Africa and the Middle East with most experts foreseeing recovery still in 2020.
Experts in the Americas are the least optimistic and least likely to believe in recovery in 2020, while in Europe and Asia, the outlook is mixed, with half of the experts expecting to see recovery within this year.