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Global tourism is recovering in 2021

Thanks to the progress of vaccination campaigns and the lifting of a number of restrictions around the world, international tourism began to recover in July, although the figures are far from those achieved before the crisis.

In July 2021, almost 54 million international tourists travelled around the world according to the latest figures published by the UNWTO. This is the highest figure recorded since the beginning of the health crisis that brought the global tourism industry to a virtual standstill for many months. This figure also represents an increase of around 58% compared to the 34 million international tourists in July 2020. Nevertheless, it is still a long way from the 164 million travellers in 2019, a record year for tourism.

As the UNWTO points out, this relatively positive result is due to several factors, including the reopening of many destinations to international tourists, such as the United States, Mauritius and New Zealand, and of course to the vast vaccination campaigns conducted throughout the world. Among other things, the deployment of vaccines is making it possible to "gradually restore safe conditions for mobility in Europe and other regions of the world".

However, 2021 remains a complicated period for tourism as "international arrivals from January to July are 80% lower than in 2019". During this year, many destinations have seen a drastic drop in travellers compared to 2019:

  • -95% for Asia-Pacific 
  • -82% for the Middle East
  • -77% for Europe and Africa 
  • -68% for the Americas

While small islands in the Caribbean, Africa or Asia-Pacific and small European destinations have seen arrivals close to or even above pre-sanitary crisis levels over the same period.

The major tourist destinations are still struggling to return to pre-Covid levels, such as Spain, which before the crisis was the world's second largest tourist destination with over 83 million tourists in 2019. This year's target, set by the government, was to receive 45 million tourists, slightly more than half of the 2019 figures. But the country only received 15 million tourists in the first 8 months of the year, i.e. 4.2% less than in the same period last year, so reaching the target of 45 million voyagers seems complicated.

The real recovery of tourism with its accompanying benefits is still to come, due to inconsistent rules and regulations and disparities in vaccination rates, which continue to undermine confidence to travel.

Zurab Pololikasvili, UNWTO Secretary-General

The UNWTO believes that a rebound in global tourism will occur in 2022 but that the tourism sector will not return to pre-crisis levels until 2023 or 2024 because although the recovery of activity is visible, it is gradual.

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