July 13, 2024

Global Tourism Nears Full Recovery: UN Reports Robust Growth in 2023 and Promising Outlook for 2024

In 2023, global tourist entries reached 89% of 2019 levels, with tourism revenue achieving 97% of 2019’s total, and tourism GDP fully rebounded to pre-pandemic figures. The UN’s tourism agency reports that 2024 is expected to see a complete rebound, with international arrivals projected to exceed 2019 levels by 2%.

 The Middle East led the recovery with a 36% increase in international tourists in the first quarter of 2024 compared to pre-pandemic figures, and a 4% rise over the same period in 2023. In 2023, the region demonstrated a 22% growth over pre-pandemic numbers.

Europe, hosting the highest volume of international tourists globally, recorded a 1% increase in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period in 2019, welcoming 120 million visitors, bolstered by strong intra-regional demand.

Africa saw a 5% rise in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the first quarter of 2019, and a 13% increase over the same period in 2023. The Americas almost reached their pre-pandemic tourist numbers in early 2024, achieving 99% of the figures from 2019. Tourism in Asia and the Pacific is swiftly approaching recovery, with tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 hitting 82% of pre-pandemic levels, following a 65% recovery throughout 2023.

UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism policies and destination management to support economic recovery and community welfare.

In specific regions, North Africa led with a 23% increase in tourists compared to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter, followed by Central America with an 8% rise, and both the Caribbean and Western Europe with 7% increases. Southern Mediterranean Europe slightly exceeded its pre-pandemic numbers by 1%, while South America nearly matched its 2019 figures. Northern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa both recorded recoveries at 95% and 98%, respectively.

Several destinations exhibited remarkable gains in the first quarter of 2024. Qatar saw a 177% increase compared to the first quarter of 2019, followed by Albania at 121%, Saudi Arabia at 98%, and other notable increases in Tanzania, Curaçao, Serbia, Turks and Caicos, Guatemala, and Bulgaria. The UN Tourism Confidence Index reflected this positive trend, reaching 130 points out of 200 for January through April, surpassing earlier predictions.

In 2023, global tourism revenue reached USD 1.5 trillion, fully recovering to pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, though when adjusted for inflation, the figure stood at 97%. Europe led in earnings, with tourism revenues totaling USD 660 billion, a 7% increase over pre-pandemic figures in real terms. The Middle East saw a 33% surge above 2019 levels. The Americas achieved 96% of their pre-crisis earnings, while Africa reached 95%. Asia and the Pacific reported receipts at 78% of their pre-crisis levels, a significant recovery from their 65% recuperation in visitor numbers the previous year. Overall, the total export revenues from international tourism, encompassing both receipts and passenger transport, amounted to USD 1.7 trillion in 2023, approximately 96% of the levels seen before the pandemic. The direct GDP from tourism also restored to pre-pandemic levels, estimated at USD 3.3 trillion or 3% of the global GDP.

Standout performers in receipt gains for the quarter included Serbia, with an increase of 127% compared to 2019, followed by Türkiye, Pakistan, Tanzania, Portugal, Romania, Japan, Mongolia, Mauritius, and Morocco, all posting notable gains. Looking forward to 2024, full recovery in international tourism is anticipated, supported by strong demand, improved air connectivity, and the ongoing recovery of China and other significant markets in Asia.

The latest UN Tourism Confidence Index anticipates a positive outlook for the summer of 2024, with a score of 130 indicating higher optimism than earlier in the year. A majority of tourism experts, about 62%, foresee improved conditions for the upcoming four months of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season, although challenges remain. Economic and geopolitical concerns, such as persistent inflation, high interest rates, fluctuating oil prices, and trade disruptions, continue to challenge the tourism sector, potentially driving tourists to seek value closer to home. Additionally, extreme weather conditions could influence travel choices. Geopolitical tensions, including the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing issues in the Middle East, pose further risks to the sector.

As the tourism industry continues to recover and expand, contributing to economic growth and job creation worldwide, it is crucial for governments to adapt and improve tourism management to ensure that local communities benefit from this development.

The U.S. Travel Association predicts that international arrivals to the U.S. will exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2024, with an expected 86.1 million travelers. In 2023, the majority of these visitors (58.7%) came for leisure purposes. In the 2024 Travel and Tourism Development Index, the U.S. ranks as the leading economy, evaluated across various factors such as infrastructure, attractions, and policies. The report underscores that the U.S. offers highly favorable conditions for tourism development.

Saudi Arabia is also making substantial investments in its tourism infrastructure in 2024, aligned with its ambitious Vision 2030 plan. The country has attracted considerable private sector investments, with approximately $13 billion allocated to add between 150,000 and 200,000 hotel rooms over the next two years. Additionally, Saudi Arabia aims to attract up to $80 billion in private investment to become one of the world’s most visited destinations. These efforts are part of a broader strategy to diversify the economy away from its traditional reliance on the oil and gas industry. Projections suggest that the tourism sector could contribute nearly $169 billion to Saudi Arabia’s GDP by 2032, representing 17.1% of the total economy. The Kingdom aims to attract 100 million foreign and domestic visitors annually by 2030, increasing tourism’s share of the economy from approximately 3% to 10%.

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