One Billion Fewer International Arrivals Make 2020 Worst Year in Tourism Industry

The hard hit that the tourism sector suffered worldwide in 2020 surpassed the predictions of all worst-case scenarios ever imagined in recent years.

A 74 per cent decrease in the number of international arrivals or one billion fewer international arrivals during the last year, compared to 2019 data, were all consequences of the rapid spread of the Coronavirus pandemic and its new strains that emerged in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa and have been detected in many countries by now.


An estimated USD 1.3 trillion have been lost in export revenues, in international travel during last year, over 11 times the loss registered during the 2009 global economic crisis, the figures published by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reveal.

Due to the financial crisis provoked by the virus, between 100 and 120 million tourism jobs have been put at risk, most of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, reports.

When the Coronavirus outbreak started to widely spread worldwide, most governments chose entry bans, quarantine rules, and travel restrictions as adequate preventive measures to halt the disease from spreading. But such responses brought a devastating financial situation for the tourism sector, among many other affected industries.

In November last year, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) foresaw that by the end of 2020, 174 persons could lose their jobs if the countries worldwide do not lift their travel restrictions.

In this regard, the World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said that even though much has been done in recovering the international travel, pointing out that they “are aware that the crisis is far from over.”

“The harmonization, coordination, and digitalization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow,” Pololikashvili pointed out.

Even though the tourism in European countries was a bit revived during the summer of 2020, a total of 70 per cent decrease was marked in the number of arrivals. Furthermore, the continent suffered the largest decline last year when the number of international tourists was 500 million fewer.

The number of overall international tourists decreased by 98 per cent in April 2020, compared to the same month data one year earlier, Statista’s data reveal. The figures show that the Coronavirus pandemic affected the most travel throughout Europe.

Travel restrictions imposed by countries’ governments lead to a profound decrease in the number of arrivals. According to Statista’s data, the number of inbound tourist arrivals in Europe declined by 85 per cent overall.

Financial Losses in Some European Countries
A survey conducted by the UNWTO Panel of Experts brought different views regarding this year’s tourism situation. About 45 per cent of respondents predicted a better prospect for this year, compared to the previous year, 25 per cent of them envisaged similar performance, and 30 per cent foresee a worsening result during 2021.

The prospects of a rebound during 2021 have worsened, based on the UNWTO survey.

In total, 50 per cent of respondents expect a rebound to happen only in 2022, compared to 21 per cent in October 2020. The other half of survey participants’ see a potential rebound in 2021, even though below the expectations shown in the October 2020 survey, in which 79 per cent of respondents expected recovery in 2021.

“Most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41 per cent expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later,” UNWTO report reveals.

The World Tourism Organization, through extended scenarios for 2021-2024, has indicated that international tourism would need two and a half to four years in order to get back to the pre-pandemic situation.

In October last year, the European Tourism Convention’s president, Luis Araujo, said that the EU must act quickly and in a coordinated way, to save the livelihoods of all persons who depend on the tourism industry “and capitalize on this opportunity to reinvent tourism in Europe.”

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Council previously published data regarding some EU countries’ financial losses, such as Spain, Germany, France, and Italy.

WTTC stressed that Spain could lose over 40 billion euros during the summer of last year due to the Coronavirus pandemic situation.

According to the National Statistics Institute, the number of arrivals in Spain decreased to 19 million during last year, compared to 84 million visitors during 2019.

The Institute stressed that the international tourism income was 20 billion euros, a 79 per cent decrease compared to 92 billion euros received in 2019.

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that Germany could lose €38 billion due to the decrease in international tourists’ number during 2020.

Tours operators, travel agents, and tourism companies in Germany are urging their government to introduce a recovery strategy to help the tourism industry, which has been deeply affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The WTTC has estimated that during 2020, the number of international tourists would cause a €48 billion loss in France.

Besides, the same estimated that more than 2 million jobs in France territories connected to the tourism sector could also be lost.

Italy risked losing a total of €36.7 billion due to the lack of international tourists. According to the figures published by WTTC, the amount spent by tourists in Italy was foreseen to decrease by 82 per cent until the end of the year affecting Italy’s economy with €700 million a week on average.

Over 6000 Air Routes in Europe Vanished in 2020
In its 2020’s report published in December, “Airport Industry Connectivity Report,” Airports Council International highlighted that over 6000 air routes that earlier operated from Europe’s airports still have not been restored, even though nine months have passed since the COVID-19 outbreak.

The report highlighted that the EU/UK airports had been the hardest hit. The direct connectivity was deficient in April, a little bit recovered during August and falling again in September by 62 per cent.

The sharpest decreases in direct connectivity among Europe and the United Kingdom airports were registered as of September in the following airports.

  • Madrid-Barajas (71 per cent decrease)
  • Rome-Fiumicino (70 per cent decrease)
  • Munich (68 per cent per cent)
  • London-Heathrow (68 per cent decrease)
  • Frankfurt (67 per cent decrease)Other regional airports were even more affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Linz airport marked the highest decline in direct connectivity by 96 per cent, followed by Treviso (95 per cent), Vaasa (-91 per cent), Quimper (87 per cent), Newquay (86 per cent), Shannon (83 per cent), and Burgas (82 per cent).

The Director-General of ACI EUROPE, Olivier Jankovec, in this regard, stressed that “the damage is so systemic that relying solely on market forces to restore air connectivity would not be realistic.”

Vaccination Certificate May Soon Be Required to Travel Abroad
Another option to help the tourism industry recover from the Coronavirus pandemic has been considered the launching of vaccination certificates by the European Union countries, making persons’ movement easier without obliging travelers to undergo a testing process.

Such a movement has been supported by many countries in Europe, such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

However, the vaccination passport idea is not supported unanimously.

In this regard, the World Health Organization Committee (WHO) said that “the impact of vaccines on reducing transmission is not yet known”; therefore, according to the organization, the idea should not be supported.

Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was among the most supportive persons to push the launching vaccination passports forward in order to facilitate the free movement.

He even addressed a letter to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging her to back the proposal.

The EC’s President welcomed the idea; however, she said that EU countries should first discuss the plan and reach a joint agreement about the procedure.

When it comes to the launching of vaccination passports, the idea was not totally unknown. It was even discussed during the first months of the Coronavirus outbreak.

In April 2020, an EU official warned that the testing process and vaccination once a vaccine starts to rollout would be two main requirements for EU and Schengen travelers to help countries recover from the damages caused by the COVID-19 disease safely.


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