The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has revealed that tourism has returned to its 1990 levels as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the United Nations agency shows that destinations worldwide saw 900 million fewer tourists between January and October when compared with the same period of 2019. This represents a fall by 72 per cent in international arrivals over the first ten months of the year.

The UNWTO also looked at the regional variations, with Asia Pacific seeing the greatest decline in international arrivals (82 per cent), followed by the Middle East (73 per cent), Africa and Europe (69 per cent), and the Americas (68 per cent).

The data revealed instances of short-lived recovery in the summer months, with Europe recording smaller decreases of 71 per cent and 67 per cent in July and August, followed by 72 per cent and 76 per cent in September and October.

The Americas has also seen some improvement, continually recording smaller decreases since June due to the reopening of destinations including small island developing states in the Caribbean.

By contrast, Asia Pacific has continued to see declines of almost 100 per cent in September and October, which is tied to the closure of borders in China and other major destinations in the region.

This downturn in international tourism translates into a loss of US$935 billion, which is ten times greater than the loss in 2009 resulting from the global financial crisis.

Based on the current evidence, the UNWTO predicts that international arrivals will decline by 70-75 per cent for the whole of 2020, returning global tourism to the levels of 30 years ago. This equates to one billion fewer arrivals and a loss of US$1.1 trillion in revenue from international tourism, in turn creating an economic loss of US$2 trillion in world GDP.

Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of UNWTO, commented on the news:

“Since the start of this crisis, UNWTO has provided governments and businesses with trusted data showing the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global tourism. Even as the news of a vaccine boosts traveller confidence, there is still a long road to recovery. We thus need to step up our efforts to safely open borders while supporting tourism jobs and businesses. It is ever clearer that tourism is one of the most affected sectors by this unprecedented crisis.”

“A coordinated approach to easing and lifting restrictions on travel whenever is it safe to do so is essential. This will not only open destinations up to tourism again, but clear and consistent rules between countries will go a long way towards building back trust in international travel and boosting consumer confidence.”

Based on scenarios for 2021-2024, the body predicts a rebound in international tourism by the second half of 2021 but concedes that a return to 2019 levels in terms of international arrivals could take between two-and-a-half and four years.

Earlier this month, UNWTO released a report revealing that 70 per cent of destinations around the world have eased travel restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.