The Outlook of Tourism Recovery in 2022
One of the sectors of the economy that the pandemic most brutally devastated was the tourism industry. With stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, the number of visitors to many destinations fell to almost nothing in 2020. While many hoped for a recovery in 2021, the development of the Delta and then Omicron variants pushed recovery back further. However, a report from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that the prospect for recovery in 2022 is much stronger, despite additional obstacles.
Compared to January last year, global international tourist arrivals jumped 130% in January 2022. While this figure represents more than double the amount of visitors from 2021, it remains 67% the level of tourists pre-pandemic. This figure points to the work that is left to do when it comes to recovery within the tourism sector, but also provides encouragement for an industry that was so destabilized within the past couple of years.
The regions that have seen the greatest rebound include Europe and the Americas, nearly tripling and doubling, respectively, compared to 2021. However, even these regions remain at roughly half of 2019 levels. Overall, the World Economic Forum estimates that the pandemic alone cost the global economy $4 trillion USD and endangered over 100 million jobs directly related to tourism.
Easing travel restrictions and free travel with vaccinations have certainly been a boon for the tourism industry, but it remains vulnerable to developments in other global crises. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and resulting sanctions are also having an impact on tourism.
Regions heavily reliant on Russian tourists are now seeing a steep drop in visitors as many Russians are now not able to travel outside of Russia. In 2019, Thailand received 1.5 million Russian visitors, resulting in $3.3 billion USD of overall spending. With the conflict, that revenue source is now cut off.
The closure of Russian and Ukrainian airspace also impacts tourism due to the changes airlines have to make to their flights. To avoid flying over Russia, many flights from Europe to Asia will have to take longer, less-direct routes, increasing the cost of flights.
The energy crisis accompanying the conflict also could raise airplane ticket costs as jet fuel becomes more expensive. Plus, while the summer is often a time for road trips, many drivers may be discouraged by soaring gas prices.
Despite these setbacks, the prediction from the UNWTO is that the tourism sector will continue a gradual recovery in 2022. Furthermore, this crisis can present an opportunity for policymakers and those in the tourism industry to rethink their approach to the field.
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