REVENGE travel in most parts of the world will lead a number of regions to return to pre-pandemic tourism levels this year, but global political and economic realities could impact on plans.
In its latest report, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said, “After stronger-than-expected recovery in 2022, this year could see international tourist arrivals return to pre-pandemic levels in Europe and the Middle East. Tourists are nonetheless expected to increasingly seek value for money and travel closer to home in response to the challenging economic climate.”
The UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals could reach some 1.2 billion to 1.4 billion this year, “depending on the extent of the economic slowdown, the ongoing recovery of travel in Asia and the Pacific, and the evolution of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, among other factors.”
Latest data compiled by UNWTO show over 900 million international arrivals in 2022, double the number recorded in 2021.
Last year’s numbers, however, were still just 63 percent of prepandemic levels. In 2019, international tourist arrivals reached almost 1.5 billion.
Largest arrivals growth in Mideast
Every region recorded significant increases in international tourist arrivals, with the Middle East leading the way, at 83 percent of prepandemic numbers (60.3 million tourists); followed by Europe, at nearly 80 percent of pre-pandemic levels (585 million) in 2022. Africa (45 million) and the Americas (142.4 million) both recovered about 65 percent of their pre-pandemic visitors, while Asia and the Pacific reached only 23 percent, at 84.4 million arrivals, “due to stronger pandemic-related restrictions which have started to be removed only in recent months.”
In a news statement, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “A new year brings more reason for optimism for global tourism. UNWTO anticipates a strong year for the sector even in the face of diverse challenges including the economic situation and continued geopolitical uncertainty. Economic factors may influence how people travel in 2023 and UNWTO expects demand for domestic and regional travel to remain strong and help drive the sector’s wider recovery.”
The recovery of international tourism this year is expected to be strengthened with the recent reopening of mainland China to international travel, which the UNWTO described as a “significant step.” China was the largest outbound travel market in 2019, with 155 million trips taken, generating some US$255 billion in expenditures.
“In the short term, the resumption of travel from China is likely to benefit Asian destinations in particular. However, this will be shaped by the availability and cost of air travel, visa regulations and Covid-19 related restrictions in the destinations. By mid-January a total of 32 countries had imposed specific travel restrictions related to travel from China, mostly in Asia and Europe,” noted the UNWTO.
Russia, inflation still weigh heavy
Americans continue to be the current drivers of international travel, especially with the strong greenback, and will thus keep boosting travel flows in many regions, including Europe this year.
Higher spending by international travelers has been also recorded by most destinations, the tourism organization noted, “…in several cases higher than their growth in arrivals. This has been supported by the increase in average spending per trip due to longer periods of stay, the willingness by travelers to spend more in their destination and higher travel costs due to inflation.” Highest increases in tourism receipts above pre-pandemic levels last year were recorded by Turkey (+40 percent), Romania (+25 percent), Mexico (+13 percent), Portugal (+15 percent), Latvia (+14 percent), Pakistan and Morocco (both +6 percent), and France (+1 percent).
Still, global economic and political developments could result in a more cautious attitude among travelers, who may spend less, take shorter trips, and travel closer to home. Economists from the UN have projected global inflation to reach 6.5 percent this year, with growth slowing to 1.9 percent.
“Furthermore, continued uncertainty caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine and other mounting geopolitical tensions, as well as health challenges related to Covid-19 also represent downside risks and could weigh on tourism’s recovery in the months ahead,” said the UNWTO.