Earlier in the week the UNWTO released statistics showing just how deep cuts have been to global travel, so our team got straight to work reaching out to industry contacts, travel leaders and other officials to get a deeper sense of the current state of travel.
To make a long story short, the recent past, current present and medium to long term future prospects for travel can be summed up in three words; dire, hopeful and, optimistic. The recent past has been dire. From January to April the worldwide travel market was literally destroyed. Today however traffic levels are improving and people seem willing to return to the air, so many in the industry are hopeful. And in the longer term, most industry observers are optimistic. However, it’s going to be a long road to get from here to there.
Where we’ve been and where we are now
At the beginning of the year April was expected to be one of the busiest travel months, but the near-universal introduction of travel restrictions led to a fall of 97% in international tourist arrivals. This follows a 55% decline in March. In fact, between January and April 2020, international tourist arrivals declined by 44%, translating into a loss of about US$195 billion in international tourism receipts.
However, the gradual lifting of restrictions in some countries, together with the creation of travel corridors, the resumption of some international flights and enhanced safety and hygiene protocols, are among the measures being introduced by governments as they look to restart tourism.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili explained, “The sudden and massive fall in tourist numbers threatens jobs and economies. It is vital, therefore, that the restart of tourism is made a priority and managed responsibly, protecting the most vulnerable and with health and safety as a the sector’s number one concern. Until tourism’s restart is underway everywhere, UNWTO again calls for strong support for the sector in order to protect jobs and businesses. We therefore welcome the steps undertaken by both the European Union and individual countries including France and Spain to support tourism economically and build the foundations for recovery.”
Asia and the Pacific hit hardest
At the regional level, Asia and the Pacific was the first to be hit by the pandemic and the worst hit between January and April, with arrivals down 51% in that period. Europe recorded the second-largest fall, with a 44% drop for the same period, followed by the Middle East (-40%), the Americas (-36%) and Africa (-35%).
In early May, UNWTO set out three possible scenarios for the tourism sector in 2020. None of the projections are pretty, but the number show how relatively bad things could be. All scenarios point to potential declines in overall international tourist numbers of 58% to 78%, depending on when travel restrictions are lifted. Since mid-May, UNWTO has identified an increase in the number of destinations announcing measures to restart tourism. These include the introduction of enhanced safety and hygiene measures and policies designed to promote domestic tourism.
The numbers are staggering but as the people we spoke with point out, these projections are expect smooth sailing once destinations re-open. In other words, no second wave and no renewed large scale outbreaks and renewed travel curbs.
It is interesting to note that a gradual re-opening of international travel in July leads to 20% more travel this year than having to wait until December. But to see just how important the summer months are, a re-opening in September, just two months later, still sees a 12% loss in travelers.
So far one thing is certain, the current state of travel is complex, confusing but confident. Here’s top a better second half of the year than the first.