I previously reported that 2020 was the worst year for airline travel. According to the International Airline Transport Association (IATA), international airline passenger demand declined 76% compared to 2019. What we all suspected has also been confirmed. 2020 was the worst year for international tourism, which was off by a whopping 74%.

Warsaw, Poland Old Town

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently announced that countries worldwide welcomed more than 1,000,000,000 fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. That compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis. The collapse in international travel represents an estimated loss of $1.3 trillion in revenues and directly risks between 100 and 120 million tourism jobs, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises.  (I wonder if us travel bloggers are included in those stats😎)

Asia and the Pacific saw an 84% decrease in international arrivals in 2020, about 300 million less than in the previous year. The Middle East and Africa both recorded a 75% drop in arrivals. In Europe arrivals declined by 70%, representing over 500 million fewer international tourists, while the Americas saw a drop of 69%.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Future Prospects

Vaccine rollout delays and new variants of Covid have dampened prospects for a quick rebound in 2021. have worsened. UNWTO predicts that it could take between two-and-a-half and four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels.

Como, Italy

The availability of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to boost consumer confidence, contribute to fewer and less onerous travel restrictions, and lead to slowly ramping up travel during the year ahead. Experts foresee growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences leading the comeback.

Final Thoughts

The decline in international tourism reflects and confirms the precipitous decline in air travel. The good news is that vaccines will improve our confidence in traveling safely although full recovery in international tourism may not happen until 2024.

I get my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine tomorrow (knock on wood). Even so, I don’t have plans to travel immediately. There just aren’t that many places to go and not as many things to do once one gets there. Plus, if infected, vaccines that are 95% effective still leave a 5% chance of getting serious Covid symptoms. That probability is nothing to sneeze at (pardon the pun) when talking about an illness that could land one in the hospital – in a foreign country. On the other hand, given the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. I may be better off to take my chances somewhere where spread is better controlled (if they are letting anybody in).

What are your travel plans internationally or domestically for 2021?