The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicts international tourism will recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
According to its first UNWTO World Tourism Barometer of the year, an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals were recorded in 2023.
This brings international tourism in 2023 at 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels, or the year 2019.
The increasing recovery of Asian markets and destinations is expected to support the total recovery by the end of 2024.
Full tourism recovery will also be attributed to the release of remaining pent-up demand and the expansion of air connectivity.
“The latest UNWTO data underscores tourism’s resilience and rapid recovery, with pre-pandemic numbers expected by the end of 2024,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said via a press release.
He added, “The rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs, growth, and opportunities for communities everywhere.”
“These numbers also recall the critical task of progressing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development,” Pololikashvili said.
Europe is the most visited region in 2023
The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer showed Europe as the world’s most visited region.
International tourism in Europe reached 94 percent of 2019 levels. This is mainly due to intra-regional demand and travel from the United States (US).
Last year, Europe, specifically London, emerged as the most favored destination among American travelers.
In 2023, UNTWO data showed the Middle East was the only region to overcome pre-pandemic levels. It recorded arrivals 22 percent up from 2019.
Meanwhile, Africa had 96 percent of pre-pandemic visitors, while the Americas reached 90 percent.
Asia and the Pacific region reached only 65 percent of 2019 levels after the reopening of several destinations.
However, recovery levels from Asia and the Pacific region are mixed. South Asia is already 87 percent, while North-East Asia is 55 percent.
On the other hand, sub-regions Southern Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, and North Africa already surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
International tourism’s economic impact
In 2023, international tourism receipts recorded US$1.4 trillion for the global economy. This is about 93 percent of total global destinations’ earnings in 2019.
Meanwhile, revenues from total exports from tourism, including passenger transport, accounted for US$1.6 trillion in 2023. This is 95 percent of tourism exports during the pre-pandemic year.
Initial estimates of the economic contribution through the tourism direct gross domestic product (TDGDP) suggest a US$3.3 trillion in 2023. This is about three percent of global GDP.
This shows a rebound in TDGDP to pre-pandemic levels, propelled by robust domestic and international tourism.
Additionally, the improved condition of the economy can also be observed in the positive performance of various industry indicators.
In 2023, tourism revenue increased significantly in many places, with some exceeding visitor growth.
Major outbound travel markets also showed high demand, surpassing 2019 levels.
According to the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker, ongoing recovery is evident in key industry indicators.
Both international air capacity and passenger demand rebounded to approximately 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels through October 2023.
This is based on data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Meanwhile, global accommodation occupancy rates reached 65 percent in November. This is up from 62 percent in the same month the year before.
The estimate is based on data provided by STR, a company that offers benchmarking, analytics, and insights for the global hospitality industry.
International tourism in 2024
International tourism is anticipated to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024. The UNWTO suggests an estimate of a two percent growth from 2019.
However, recovery growth will still depend on Asia’s tourism revival and economic and geopolitical risks.
As of 2023, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East will continue to fuel tourism flows and spending worldwide.
Europe is forecasted to play a significant role again in boosting international tourism in 2024.
China’s improved visa policy, as it opens the country to more tourists and businesses, is also set to boost tourism numbers in Asia.
Visa and travel facilitation measures will also promote travel to and around the Middle East and Africa with the Gulf bloc.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is set to launch a unified tourist visa, similar to the Schengen visa, to facilitate seamless travel experiences.
Substantial travel from the US, backed by a strong US currency, will continue to benefit destinations in the Americas and beyond.
Economic and geopolitical challenges such as inflation, high interest rates, fuel prices, and trade disruption will impact transport and accommodation costs this year.
Given the current situation, tourists will likely prioritize value for money and opt for destinations closer to their homes.
The importance of sustainable practices and adaptability is also expected to grow in influencing consumer choices.