Tourism worse off than in 2009

• First comprehensive insight into global impact of Covid-19

30 July 2020 | Tourism



The enormous toll of the coronavirus pandemic on international tourism has now become clear, with World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) data showing the cost up to May was already three times that of the 2009 global economic crisis.

As the situation continues to evolve, the United Nations agency has provided the first comprehensive insight into the impact of the pandemic, both in tourist numbers and lost revenues.

This comes ahead of the upcoming release of up-to-date information on travel restrictions worldwide.

The latest edition of the UNTWO World Tourism Barometer indicates that the near-complete lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a 98% fall in international tourist numbers in May compared to last year.

The barometer also shows a 56% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals between January and May.

This translates into a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism receipts, which the UNTWO says is three times the loss during the global economic crisis of 2009.

No recovery soon

While tourism is slowly returning in some destinations, the UNWTO Confidence Index has dropped to record lows, both for the evaluation of the period January-April 2020, and the prospects for May-August.

Most members of the UNWTO panel of tourism experts expect international tourism to recover only by the second half of 2021, followed by those who expect a rebound in the first part of next year.

The group of global experts points to a series of downside risks such as travel restrictions and border shutdowns still in place in most destinations, safety concerns associated with travel, the resurgence of the virus and risks of new lockdowns or curfews.

Drastically low

Furthermore, concerns over a lack of reliable information and a deteriorating economic environment are indicated as factors weighing on consumer confidence.

Recent statistics provided by the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN) indicated that room occupancy rates at Namibian tourism accommodation establishments have dropped to drastically low levels.

The average rate recorded for room occupancy stood at a mere 7.71% for the month in June, compared to 51.21% last year.

During the second quarter of June, a room occupancy rate of only 4.86% was recorded in comparison to last year's 53.98%.

Global calamity

“This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so. The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk, including in developing countries.

“Governments in every world region have a dual responsibility to prioritise public health while also protecting jobs and businesses.

“They also need to maintain the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that has defined our response to this shared challenge and refrain from making unilateral decisions that may undermine the trust and confidence we have been working so hard to build,” said UNTWO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.