There is no doubt that the biggest crisis in the history of the tourism industry is continuing to weigh on the recovery of international tourism.
The latest data from the UNWTO reveals that between January and May, international tourist arrivals were 85% below 2019 levels — or a 65% drop on 2020).
And despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of COVID-19 variants and the continued imposition of restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel. On the positive side of the ledger, domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world.
During the first five months of 2021, the UNWTO found that world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than pre-pandemic year of 2019.
However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May, with arrivals declining by 82% (versus May 2019), after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili observes that: “Accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide, working on effective coordination and communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism.”
As for what’s to come, the UNWTO indicated that international tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven.
Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to rei-mpose restrictive measures. In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season.
However, vaccination programs around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.
In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets. Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the United States is strengthening further.