Global Tourism Rebounded Last Year – Here’s What’s Next

The world tourism sector is on track to recover almost 90% of its pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, according to the latest data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 

An estimated 975 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September 2023, an increase of 38% on the same months of 2022, the UNWTO reported in its World Tourism Barometer.

The third quarter of 2023 saw a 22% increase in international tourist arrivals compared to the same period last year, reflecting a strong Northern Hemisphere summer season. July was the best month so far since the start of the pandemic, with international tourist arrivals reaching 92% of pre-pandemic levels. 

The UNWTO also projected that international tourism receipts could reach USD 1.4 trillion in 2023, about 93% of the USD 1.5 trillion earned by destinations in 2019. 

Some markets rose nearly in line with China, while others lagged behind. On balance though Asian consumers are insuring that luxury goods sales are booming.

“The latest UNWTO data shows that international tourism has almost completely recovered from the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 with many destinations reaching or even exceeding pre-pandemic arrivals and receipts. This is critical for destinations, businesses, and communities where the sector is a major lifeline,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. 

The Middle East, Europe, and Africa led the recovery by regions, with arrivals 20%, 94%, and 92% above pre-pandemic levels respectively in the nine months through September 2023. The Middle East was the only region to surpass 2019 levels this period, thanks to visa facilitation measures, new tourism-related projects, and large events. 

The Americas recovered 88% of pre-pandemic visitors this period, benefiting from strong US demand, especially to Caribbean destinations. Asia and the Pacific lagged behind, reaching only 62% of pre-pandemic levels this period, due to slower reopening to international travel. However, performance among subregions varied, with South Asia recovering 95% of pre-pandemic levels but North-East Asia only about 50%. 

The UNWTO attributed the rebound of tourism to the easing of travel restrictions, the progress of vaccination campaigns, the pent-up demand for travel, and the adaptation and resilience of the sector. 

The UNWTO also urged governments and stakeholders to continue working together to ensure a safe, seamless, and responsible recovery of tourism, in line with the commitments of the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action on Tourism, which was officially included in the Global Climate Action Portal of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.