SINGAPORE: After taking a huge hit beginning from 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire world, tourism is expected to fully recover this year, the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation said in a statement yesterday (19 Jan). Moreover, initial estimates say the world may even see a 2 per cent increase of tourism above 2019 levels.

“Following a strong 2023, international tourism is well on track to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2024,” said the UNWTO, noting that by the end of 2023, international tourism was already at 88 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, noting an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals.

As Asian markets and destinations continue to recover and as more people give in to “remaining pent-up demand,” it’s highly likely for tourism to make a full recovery this year.

Interestingly, the Middle East did not just meet but overshot its pre-pandemic tourism levels, the only region across the globe to do so. It saw 22 per cent more arrivals than in 2019.

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Europe reached 94 per cent of 2019 levels, seeing an uptick of tourists from the United States. Africa has done even better, reaching 96 per cent of pre-pandemic arrivals, and the Americas are at 90 per cent of previous levels.

In Asia and the Pacific, 2023 saw a recovery of 65 per cent of tourists in comparison with pre-pandemic levels. But South Asia has been a high performer in the region, having recovered 87 per cent of pre-pandemic travelers.

“The latest UNWTO data underscores tourism’s resilience and rapid recovery, with pre-pandemic numbers expected by the end of 2024. The rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities everywhere. These numbers also recall the critical task of progressing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

The predicted 2 per cent tourism increase over 2019 levels for this year is still dependent on the pace of Asia’s recovery as well economic and geopolitical situations.

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Tourism to and from China, however, is expected to grow, as the country expands its list of visa-free nations as well as its air capacity.

Another factor that is likely to contribute to growth is the unified tourist visa scheme from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, a programme similar to what the European Union has done with the Schengen visa.

With the Paris Olympics this summer, as well as Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen area of free movement in March, Europe is likely to be a top destination for many travelers in the coming year.

However, high inflation and interest rates, volatile oil prices and disruptions to trade may possibly affect transport and accommodations costs this year, and travelers may increasingly opt for value for money or choose destinations that are not too far away.

“Sustainable practices and adaptability will also play an increasing role in consumer choice,” the UNWTO added.

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It also noted that the Hamas-Israel conflict may “disrupt travel in the Middle East and impact traveler confidence. Uncertainty derived from the Russian aggression against Ukraine as well as other mounting geopolitical tensions, continue to weigh on confidence.” /TISG

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