The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has released its updated assessment of the likely impact of the COVID-19 on international tourism. Considering the unparalleled introduction of travel restrictions around the world, the United Nations specialized agency for tourism expects that international tourist arrivals will be down by 20% to 30% in 2020 in comparison to 2019 figures. However, UNWTO stresses that these numbers are based on the latest developments as the global community faces up to an unprecedented social and economic challenge and really should be interpreted with caution in view of the extreme uncertain nature of the current crisis.
An expected fall of between 20-30% could result in a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$300-450 billion, almost 1 / 3 of the US$ 1.5 trillion made in 2019. Considering past market trends, this might imply that between five and seven years' worth of growth will be lost to COVID-19. Putting this into context, UNWTO notes that in '09 2009, on the trunk of the global financial crisis, international tourist arrivals declined by 4%, as the SARS outbreak resulted in a decline of just 0.4% in 2003.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: "Tourism is one of the hardest hit of most economic sectors. However, tourism can be united in helping to address this immense health emergency - our first and utmost priority - while working together to mitigate the impact of the crisis, particularly on employment, and also to support the wider recovery efforts through providing jobs and driving financial welfare worldwide."
Mitigating damage and planning recovery
Mr. Pololikashvili added that, although it is too early to create a full assessment of the likely impact of COVID-19 on tourism, it really is clear that millions of jobs within the sector are in threat of being lost. Around 80% of most tourism companies are small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the sector has been leading the way in providing employment and other opportunities for women, youth and rural communities.
Alongside this new assessment, UNWTO underlines tourism's historic resilience and capacity to create jobs after crisis situations, while also emphasizing the importance of international cooperation and of ensuring the sector is manufactured a central part of recovery efforts.
Since the start of the current crisis, UNWTO has been working closely with the wider US system, including directly alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) to guide the sector, issuing key advice for both high-level leaders and individual tourists. To raised consolidate and fortify the response, the Organization has established the Global Tourism Crisis Committee.