Tourism recovery accelerates to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels



AN ESTIMATED 700 million tourists have traveled internationally in the first nine months of the year, up 133 percent or more than double the number recorded for the same period in 2021. This equates to 63 percent of 2019 levels and puts the sector on course to reach 65 percent of its pre-pandemic levels this year.

Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels, and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations, the latest World Tourism Barometer from the United Nations World Tourism Organization showed.

An estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50 percent of the nine-month total.

Europe continues to lead the rebound of international tourism. The region welcomed 477 million international arrivals during the period (68 percent of the world total), hitting 81 percent of pre-pandemic levels. This was more than double the 2021 levels, up by 126 percent boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States.

Europe saw a particularly robust performance in the third quarter, when arrivals reached almost 90 percent of the 2019 levels. At the same time, the Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple (+225 percent) year on year in January-September 2022, climbing to 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Africa (+166 percent) and the Americas (+106 percent) also recorded strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63 percent and 66 percent of 2019 levels, respectively.

Arrivals in Asia and the Pacific also tripled in the first nine months (+230 percent), reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83 percent below 2019 levels. China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.

Arrivals and receipts

Several subregions reached 80 percent to 90 percent of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022.

Western Europe (88 percent) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (86 percent) saw the fastest recovery toward 2019 levels. The Caribbean, Central America (both 82 percent), and Northern Europe (81 percent) also recorded strong results.

Destinations reporting arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September include Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.

Meanwhile, some destinations recorded notable increases in international tourism receipts in the first seven to nine months of 2022, including Serbia, Romania, Türkiye, Latvia, Portugal, Pakistan, Mexico, Morocco and France.

The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France. Other markets reporting strong spending in the first six to nine months of 2022 were Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia.

Strong demand for air travel and hotel accommodation

The robust recovery of tourism is also reflected in various industry indicators such as air capacity and hotel metrics, as recorded in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker.

Air seat capacity on international routes (measured in available seat-kilometers or ASKs) in January-August reached 62 percent of 2019 levels, with Europe (78 percent) and the Americas (76 percent) posting the strongest results. Worldwide domestic capacity rose to 86 percent of 2019 levels, with the Middle East (99 percent) virtually achieving pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66 percent in September 2022, from 43 percent in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels at 77 percent in September 2022, following rates of 74 percent in July and August.

Cautious optimism for the months ahead

The challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, aggravated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in the fourth quarter and into 2023, the agency said.

The latest survey among the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts showed a downgrade in confidence levels for the last four months of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism.

Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the recovery pace, export revenues from tourism could reach US$1.2 to 1.3 trillion in 2022, a 60 to 70 percent increase over 2021, or 70 to 80 percent of the $1.8 trillion recorded in 2019. (KOC WITH PR)