International tourism continued its recovery in January 2022, with a much better performance compared to the weak start to 2021, the World Tourism Organization has said.
However, intensive military operations in Ukraine, coupled with many COVID-related travel restrictions, add pressure to the existing scene of fragile tourism recovery.
Based on the latest available data, global international tourist arrivals more than doubled (+130%) in January 2022 compared to 2021 – the 18 million more visitors recorded worldwide in the first month of this year equals the total increase for the whole of 2021.
While these figures confirm the positive trend already underway last year, the pace of recovery in January was impacted by the emergence of the Omicron variant and the re-introduction of travel restrictions in several destinations. Following the 71% decline of 2021, international arrivals in January 2022 remained 67% below pre-pandemic levels.
However, the trend has been developed despite some uncertainties caused by rising COVID variants and the military conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The war, according to UNWTO, poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in global travel.
As mentioned by the UN body, all regions enjoyed a significant rebound in January 2022, though from low levels recorded at the start of 2021. Europe (+199%) and the Americas (+97%) continued to post the strongest results, with international arrivals still around half pre-pandemic levels (-53% and -52%, respectively).
West Asia (+89%) and Africa (+51%) also saw growth in January 2022 over 2021, but these regions saw a drop of 63% and 69% respectively compared to 2019. While Asia and the Pacific recorded a 44% year-on-year increase, several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel resulting in the largest decrease in international arrivals over 2019 (-93%).
Regarding prospects for recovery, the UN body says that after the unprecedented drop in 2020 and 2021, international tourism is expected to continue its gradual recovery in 2022. As of March 24, 12 destinations had no COVID-19 related restrictions in place and an increasing number of destinations were easing or lifting travel restrictions, which contributes to unleashing pent-up demand.
Even though it is too early to assess the impact, air travel searches and bookings across various channels showed a slowdown the week after the war began but continued to rebound in early March.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates global economic growth could be more than 1% lower this year than previously projected, while inflation, already high at the start of the year, could be at least a further 2.5% higher. The recent spike in oil prices (Brent reached its highest levels in 10 years), and rising inflation are making accommodation and transport services more expensive, adding extra pressure on businesses, consumer purchasing power, and savings, UNWTO notes.
The present forecast is in line with the analysis of the potential consequences of the conflict on global economic recovery and growth by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which has also downgraded its projection for world economic growth in 2022 from 3.6% to 2.6% and warned that developing countries will be most vulnerable to the slowdown.
In 2020, international arrivals plunged by 73% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, causing assessed losses of $2.4 trillion in tourism and related sectors, according to the report by UNCTAD and the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).