COVID-19 : UNWTO predicts negative growth and calls on tourism to be part of recovery plans

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) is calling on governments, international organisations and agencies to include tourism as a priority in recovery plans. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is advising against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, but many governments have ignored this and brought in bans or restrictions on certain countries. UNWTO has revised its 2020 prospects for international tourist arrivals to a decline of 1% to 3%. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, UNWTO predicted growth of 3% to 4%. There are no figures yet on the impact on medical tourism but it is expected to be hit very badly.

UNWTO has offered an updated assessment on the tourism sector’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, pointing to a decrease in international arrivals and receipts in 2020.

UNWTO states that public health measures need to be implemented in ways that minimise any unnecessary disruption to travel and trade and since the start of the outbreak, UNWTO has been working closely with the WHO to ensure this is the case.

Considering the evolving nature of the situation, UNWTO states it is too early to estimate the full impact of the COVID-19 on international tourism. Factoring the SARS scenario, the size and dynamics of the global travel market, current travel disruptions, the geographic spread of the COVID-19 and its potential economic impact, UNWTO has revised its 2020 prospects for international tourist arrivals to a decline of 1% to 3%. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, UNWTO predicted growth of 3% to 4%.

This first assessment expects that Asia and the Pacific will be the worst affected region, with an anticipated fall in arrivals of 9% to 12, down from 5% to 6% forecasted growth. Estimates for other world regions are currently premature in view of the rapidly evolving situation.

UNWTO has called for financial and political support for recovery measures aimed at tourism, and to include support for the sector in the wider recovery plans and actions of affected economies.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak will be felt across the whole tourism value chain. Small and medium sized enterprises make up around 80% of the tourism sector and are particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, including within vulnerable communities, relying on tourism.

Political and financial commitments are key to ensure that tourism can lead wider economic and social recovery, as proven in past disruptions on the back of the highly resilient nature of the sector and its ability to bounce back strongly.

International tourism has seen continued expansion, despite occasional shocks, demonstrating the sector’s strength and resilience and benefiting all regions in the world. International tourism has only experienced declines in 2003 following SARS and the Iraq war and in 2009 amid the economic and financial crisis, with strong and rapid recovery the following years.

The tourism sector is currently one of the hardest-hit by the outbreak of COVID-19, with impacts on both travel supply and demand, particularly in China, the world’s leading outbound market in spending, and other key Asian and European destinations such as Italy.

Travel restrictions and flight cancellations/frequency reduction have significantly diminished the supply of travel services (both domestic and international) while demand continues to retract.

COVID-19 has become a new downside risk in a context of an already weaker world economy. The COVID-19 outbreak comes on top of a rather uncertain scenario of continued geopolitical, social and trade tensions, and an uneven performance among major outbound travel markets.

The Director-General of the WHO, on the advice of the International Health Regulations (Emergency Committee on COVID-19, has declared the outbreak of COVID-19 constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).