International Tourism Reaches 97% of Pre-Pandemic Levels in Early 2024

International tourism has reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024. According to UN Tourism, over 285 million tourists travelled internationally between January and March, marking a 20% increase from the same period in 2023 and highlighting the sector’s near-complete recovery from the pandemic’s impact.

In 2023, international tourist arrivals recovered to 89% of 2019 levels, with export revenues from tourism at 97% and direct tourism GDP matching 2019 figures.

UN Tourism projects a full recovery of international tourism in 2024, with arrivals expected to exceed 2019 levels by 2%.

The Middle East saw significant relative growth, with international arrivals exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 36% in Q1 2024, a 4% increase from Q1 2023. This follows an exceptional performance in 2023 when the Middle East became the first region to recover pre-pandemic numbers (+22%).

Europe, the world’s largest destination region, exceeded pre-pandemic levels in a quarter for the first time, with a 1% increase from Q1 2019. The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of the year, driven by strong intra-regional demand. Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 than in Q1 2019, and 13% more than in Q1 2023. The Americas nearly recovered pre-pandemic numbers in the first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels. Asia and the Pacific saw a rapid recovery, with arrivals reaching 82% of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, up from 65% in 2023.

UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili commented, “The recovery of the sector is very welcome news for our economies and the livelihoods of millions. Yet it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, aiming to advance sustainability and inclusion, while addressing the externalities and impact of the sector on resources and communities.”

Regional Performances

North Africa: Saw the strongest performance in Q1 2024, with 23% more international arrivals than before the pandemic. Central America: Saw an 8% increase.and The Caribbean and Western Europe: Both saw 7% increases. Southern Mediterranean Europe: Exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 1%., South America: Virtually reached 2019 levels.Northern Europe: Recovered 98% of pre-pandemic levels. Sub-Saharan Africa and North America: Both recovered 95%.

Notable Destination Achievements

Many destinations achieved remarkable results compared to 2019 levels, including Qatar (+177%), Albania (+121%), Saudi Arabia (+98%), Tanzania (+53%), Curaçao (+45%), Serbia (+43%), Turks and Caicos (+42%), Guatemala (+41%), Bulgaria (+38%)

Tourism Receipts and Economic Impact

International tourism receipts reached USD 1.5 trillion in 2023, indicating a complete recovery in nominal terms but 97% in real terms after adjusting for inflation. Europe: Generated the highest receipts in 2023, with destinations earning USD 660 billion, 7% above pre-pandemic levels in real terms. The Middle East: Saw receipts climb 33% above 2019 levels. The Americas: Recovered 96% of pre-pandemic earnings in 2023. Africa: Recovered 95%. Asia and the Pacific: Earned 78% of pre-crisis receipts, a notable improvement from 65% in 2023.

Total export revenues from international tourism, including receipts and passenger transport, reached USD 1.7 trillion in 2023, about 96% of pre-pandemic levels in real terms. Tourism’s direct contribution to global GDP was estimated at USD 3.3 trillion in 2023, equivalent to 3% of global GDP.

Future Prospects

International tourism is expected to fully recover in 2024, driven by strong demand, improved air connectivity, and the continued recovery of China and other major Asian markets. The UN Tourism Confidence Index shows positive prospects for the upcoming summer season, with a score of 130 for May-August 2024, reflecting a more optimistic sentiment than earlier in the year.

Challenges Ahead

Economic and geopolitical challenges remain significant for international tourism. The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook (April 2024) suggests a steady but slow economic recovery, with ongoing issues such as inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices, and trade disruptions leading to high transport and accommodation costs. Additionally, extreme weather events and geopolitical tensions, including the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Hamas-Israel conflict, pose downside risks for the sector.

Governments will continue adapting and improving tourism management to ensure communities and residents are at the centre of this growth, fostering sustainable and inclusive development.

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