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12 Oct 2020

Econ Digest

Global tourism may not recover until 2024


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused unprecedented losses for tourism activities around the world. In the first half of 2020, the number of international tourists decreased by more than 439 million compared with the same period last year, and the loss in international tourism revenue was at least USD600 billion.


According to the latest data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals in the first half of 2020 declined to 233 million,  shrinking 65%YoY, while international tourist arrivals during April to June 2020 were merely 8 million, declining 95%YoY, due to the closure of airspace and borders in many countries.


As the COVID-19 situation in many countries has not improved, world tourism will still be subject to many restrictions during the rest of 2020 until the first half of 2021, although many countries have eased their international travel restrictions for foreigners and some countries are considering reopening international tourism to generate cash flow in the hard-hit tourism sector. As of September 1, 2020, there are approximately 115 countries (mostly in Europe) that have relaxed their international travel restrictions, with conditions such as accepting travelers from specific countries and the designation of 7-14 days quarantine period at specific accommodation for tourists. Some countries only signed tourism agreements with other countries that have good control over the epidemic, allowing tourists from these countries to travel without being quarantined, while still being required to comply with other conditions. As a result, the number of international tourists is relatively small. For example, the number of international tourists visiting Spain in July 2020 increased from 130,000 in June 2020 to 2 million, but the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Spain may affect the continued recovery of its inbound tourism.  


In addition, various relaxation measures are still being adjusted in accordance with the changing COVID-19 situation in various countries. Prior to this, the UK had lifted quarantine measures for tourists from Spain, France and Belgium. Baltic countries including Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had previously opened their borders for a “travel bubble”  among themselves, however Latvia currently requires tourists from Estonia to go through 14 days of quarantine due to the increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Estonia, indicating a high degree of uncertainty in international tourism. 


In view of the above situation, it is expected that international tourist arrivals in 2020 will shrink by around 77%YoY or decrease from 1.45 billion in 2019 to around a mere 324 million, while international tourism revenue is expected to fall from USD1.48 trillion in 2019 to USD320 million. Most international arrivals will likely be in Europe, the region with the greatest relaxation of international tourism restrictions. The Asia-Pacific region is the second largest international tourism market after Europe, and will be among top choices of tourist destinations for tourists from many countries during tourism season at the end of the year. Although many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Thailand, China and New Zealand, have effectively controlled the COVID-19 pandemic, these countries are still cautious about reopening for international tourists. As a result, tourism activities in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to remain restrained.    


KResearch believes that the recovery of international tourism to the level before the COVID-19 pandemic may not be seen until 2024. Thailand’s tourism trend is expected to be in line with the international tourism market, while the Thai government remains cautious about reopening for international tourists. Looking forward, it is expected that the first group of tourists to recover will be middle- to upper-income tourists with the purpose of leisure, as current travel costs are relatively high, while the recovery of ordinary tourists and the MICE (Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conventions and Exhibitions) tourism market will still take time.

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Econ Digest