After a stronger-than-expected recovery in 2022, this year could see international arrivals return to pre-pandemic levels in Europe and the Middle East, according to the World Tourism Organisation, which shares more than encouraging data.
According to the prospective scenarios established by the UNWTO for 2023, international tourist arrivals could reach 80% to 95% of their pre-pandemic levels. However, this recovery remains conditional on the evolution of the economic, geopolitical and health context.
Scenarios based on the sustained return of travel in 2022. Indeed, international tourists numbered more than 900 million last year, twice as many as the figures recorded in 2021, while remaining at 63% of pre-pandemic levels. In addition, all regions of the world saw a significant increase in international tourists.
The Middle East has seen the largest increase in relative terms, with arrivals rising to 83% of pre-pandemic levels, while Europe has reached almost 80% of pre-pandemic levels with 585 million arrivals in 2022. Africa and the Americas have both recovered to around 65% of their pre-pandemic attendance figures, while Asia-Pacific has returned to just 23%.
The UNWTO therefore expects the recovery to continue throughout 2023, thanks in particular to the recent lifting of travel restrictions related to the health crisis in China, the world's largest source market in 2019. In the short term, the recovery in travel from China is expected to benefit Asian destinations in particular before fully benefiting destinations outside Asia, most of which have restrictions in place for these travellers.
At the same time, UNWTO is seeing strong demand from the US, which will continue to benefit destinations in the region and beyond. Europe will thus continue to receive considerable flows of travellers from the US, partly due to the depreciation of the euro against the dollar.
While most destinations have seen a significant increase in international tourism receipts in 2022, in some cases outpacing growth in arrivals, this could change considerably this year. Indeed, the current economic situation could encourage travellers to cut back on spending but also to make shorter stays and stay closer to home. So will 2023 see the return of domestic travel?
The most recent UNWTO confidence index shows cautious optimism for the period January to April, although it is higher than for the same period in 2022.
A new year begins with more reasons to be optimistic for global tourism. UNWTO expects the sector to perform strongly despite various challenges such as the economic situation and continuing geopolitical uncertainties. Economic factors may influence travel patterns in 2023; UNWTO expects demand for domestic and regional travel to remain strong and fuel the recovery of the sector more broadly.
Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General