The UNWTO says that the recovery of international tourism is on the right track

International tourism is on track to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022, says the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

An estimated 700 million tourists traveled internationally between January and September, more than double (+133%) the number recorded for the same period in 2021. This equates to 63% of 2019 levels and puts the sector on track to reach 65% of its pre-pandemic levels this year, in line with UNWTO scenarios. Results were driven by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations.

Highlighting the speed at which the sector has recovered from the worst crisis in its history, the last UNWTO World Tourism Barometer reveals that monthly arrivals were 64% below 2019 levels in January 2022 and had reached -27% in September. An estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50% of the nine-month total.

Europe continues to lead the global recovery

Europe continues to lead the rebound in international tourism. The region received 477 million international arrivals in January-September 2022 (68% of the world total), reaching 81% of pre-pandemic levels. This was more than double that of 2021 (+126%) with results driven by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. Europe experienced a particularly strong performance in the third quarter, when arrivals reached almost 90% of 2019 levels.

At the same time, the Middle East more than tripled international arrivals (+225%) year-over-year between January and September 2022, reaching 77% of pre-pandemic levels. Africa (+166%) and the Americas (+106%) also posted strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63% and 66% of 2019 levels, respectively. In Asia and the Pacific (+230%), arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan, at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83% below 2019 levels. China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.

Arrivals and receipts at or above pre-pandemic levels

Several subregions reached 80-90% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022. Western Europe (88%) and southern Mediterranean Europe (86%) experienced the fastest recovery towards levels of 2019. The Caribbean, Central America (both with 82%) and Northern Europe (81%) also recorded good results. Destinations that reported arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September include Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, and Iceland.

In the month of September, arrivals exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East (+3% compared to 2019) and the Caribbean (+1%) and came close to Central America (-7%), Northern Europe (-9 %) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-10%).

In the meantime, 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 the main source markets, with strong results in France, where spending reached -8% through September, compared to 2019. Other markets that recorded strong spending in the 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 strong recovery in tourism is also reflected in several industry indicators, such as air capacity and hotel metrics, as recorded in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracking. Air seat capacity on international routes (measured in available seat kilometers or ASKs) in January-August reached 62% of 2019 levels, with Europe (78%) and the Americas (76%) posting the best results. Global domestic capacity increased to 86% of 2019 levels, with the Middle East (99%) nearing pre-pandemic levels (IATA).

Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66% in September 2022, from 43% in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels of 77% in September 2022, after rates of 74% in July and August. The Americas (66%), the Middle East (63%) and Africa (61%) posted occupancy rates above 60% in September. By sub-region, Southern Mediterranean Europe (79%), Western Europe (75%) and Oceania (70%) showed the highest occupancy rates in September 2022.

Cautious optimism for the coming months

The challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and rising energy prices, exacerbated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, could affect the pace of the recovery in the fourth quarter and into 2023. The latest Panel survey of Tourism Experts of the UNWTO shows a decline in confidence. levels of the last four months of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism. Despite growing challenges pointing to a moderation in the pace of recovery, export earnings from tourism could reach USD 1.2-1.3 trillion in 2022, an increase of 60-70% over 2021 , or 70-80% of the $1.8 trillion registered in 2019.