International tourist arrivals seen to plunge by up to 78%

Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The number of international visitor arrivals is projected to further decline by up to 78 percent this year due to the coronavirus disease or COVID-19 pandemic as arrivals already fell 22 percent in the first quarter, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said.

Data from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer show that international arrivals declined by 22 percent in the first three months of the year, with arrivals in March dropping sharply by 57 percent as many countries began lockdown measures, as well as the widespread introduction of travel restrictions and the closure of airports and national borders.

This translated into a loss of 67 million international arrivals and about $80 billion in receipts.

“Prospects for the year have been downgraded several times since the outbreak and uncertainty continues to dominate,” UNWTO said as it earlier projected a 20 to 30 percent potential reduction in international arrivals.

“Current scenarios point to possible declines in arrivals of 58 percent to 78 percent for the year. These depend on the speed of containment and the duration of travel restrictions and shutdown of borders,” it added.

This translates to a potential loss of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists.

The UNWTO came up with three possible scenarios based on the gradual opening up of international borders.

Under the first scenario, UNWTO sees international arrivals to drop 58 percent if international borders are gradually opened and travel restrictions are eased in early July.

Meanwhile, international arrivals are projected to drop 70 percent if this happens in early September, and 78 percent if it begins early December.

The UNWTO emphasized that the three possible scenarios could lead to the loss of $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism with around 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk.

“This is by far the worst crisis that international tourism has faced since records began (1950). The impact will be felt to varying degrees in the different global regions and at overlapping times, with Asia and the Pacific expected to rebound first,” the UNWTO said.

Moreover, based on the results of the UNWTO Panel of Expert survey, domestic demand is expected to recover faster than international demand.

“The majority expects to see signs of recovery by the final quarter of 2020 but mostly in 2021,” the UNWTO said.

“Based on previous crises, leisure travel is expected to recover quicker, particularly travel for visiting friends and relatives, than business travel,” it added.

The survey also found that the recovery of international travel is more positive in Africa and the Middle East with most experts foreseeing recovery still in 2020.

“Experts in the Americas are the least optimistic and least likely to believe in recovery in 2020, while in Europe and Asia the outlook is mixed, with half of the experts expecting to see recovery within this year,” the UNWTO said.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili earlier called on governments to take immediate action in supporting the their respective tourism industries as millions of jobs are at risk.

“The longer we delay giving tourism the financial and regulatory reform required, the more livelihoods will be at risk,” Pololikashvili said.

Pololikashvili cited a data from the International Labor Organization which show that as many 1.6 billion individuals worldwide could be affected by a loss of working hours as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For many millions of people around the world, tourism is so much more than a leisure activity,” Pololikashvili said.

“Our sector gives them the chance to make a living. To earn not just a wage, but also dignity and equality. Tourism jobs also empower people and provide a chance to have a stake in their own societies – often for the first time. This is what is at risk right now,” he added.

Pololikashvili stressed that those at risk of losing their jobs are the most vulnerable members of societies, those working in the informal economy.

“Many of them have contributed to what has made tourism such a force for good for so long – sharing their homes with us, providing services to tourists and offering warm welcomes,” Pololikashvili said.

“We owe it to them to ensure strong and timely action is taken to protect tourism and to protect livelihoods,” he added.

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