February 22, 2024
Travel Lifestyle

Global tourism on track for a full recovery in 2024

Middle East region surpasses pre-pandemic levels

International tourism is poised to reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024, as the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has reported in its latest World Tourism Barometer launched this week.

As of the close of 2023, international tourism stood at an encouraging 88% of pre-pandemic levels, with approximately 1.3 billion international arrivals.

The rebound is attributed to a confluence of factors, including the release of pent-up demand, enhanced air connectivity, and a robust recovery of Asian markets and destinations.

Recovery
A tourist cruise facility in New York City. There were about 1.3 billion arrivals globally in 2023. Image: Arnold Pinto

The UNWTO’s comprehensive overview of the sector’s performance in 2023 reveals noteworthy insights:

  • The Middle East spearheaded the recovery, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, with arrivals soaring 22% above 2019 figures.
  • Europe, the world’s most visited region, reached an impressive 94% of 2019 levels, supported by intra-regional demand and travel from the United States.
  • Africa bounced back to 96% of pre-pandemic visitors, while the Americas reached 90%.
  • Asia and the Pacific reached 65% of pre-pandemic levels, with South Asia recovering at 87% and North-East Asia lagging at approximately 55%.

Several destinations reported double-digit growth in international arrivals in 2023 compared to 2019. Notably, Southern Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, and North Africa exceeded their 2019 arrival levels.

Recovery
A desolate beach in Goa, India. Asia reached 65% of pre-pandemic tourist levels in 2023. Image: Arnold Pinto

Zurab Pololikashvili, the Secretary-General of UNWTO, highlighted the sector’s resilience and rapid recovery, expressing optimism about pre-pandemic numbers being achieved by the end of 2024. He stressed the importance of progressing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development.

Recovery
Source: UNWTO

The economic impact of this recovery is substantial:

  • International tourism receipts reached $1.4 trillion in 2023, accounting for 93% of the earnings 2019.
  • Total export revenues from tourism, including passenger transport, are estimated at $1.6 trillion, 95% of the 2019 figures.
  • Preliminary estimates for tourism direct gross domestic product (TDGDP) point to $3.3 trillion in 2023, representing 3% of global GDP.

Industry indicators demonstrate the sustained recovery, with international air capacity and passenger demand reaching about 90% of pre-pandemic levels by October 2023.

Global occupancy rates in accommodation establishments rose to 65% in November 2023, slightly above those in November 2022.

Looking ahead, international tourism is anticipated to fully recover pre-pandemic levels in 2024, with an estimated 2% growth above 2019.

The UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index survey reflects a positive outlook, with 67% of tourism professionals expressing better prospects for 2024 than 2023.

Recovery
Salem City in Massachusetts, US, is world-famous for its witches’ narrative. Image: Arnold Pinto

Salient points

Critical considerations for the year include the ongoing recovery in Asia, accelerated Chinese tourism, visa facilitation measures in the Middle East and Africa, and significant events in Europe, such as Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen area and the Summer Olympics in Paris.

Recovery
Petra archaeological site in Jordan. North Africa exceeded 2019 arrival levels in 2023. Image: Arnold Pinto

However, challenges persist, including economic and geopolitical uncertainties, staff shortages in the tourism industry, and potential disruptions from conflicts like the Hamas-Israel situation and geopolitical tensions like the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Despite these challenges, the travel landscape is evolving, with tourists increasingly valuing affordability, sustainability, and proximity to home in their choices.

As the industry navigates these complexities, the UNWTO’s optimistic forecast sets the stage for a vibrant and resilient global tourism sector in the coming year.

Featured image: Vantage view of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain. Europe was the world’s most visited region in 2023. Image: Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto is an award-winning journalist with wide-ranging Middle East and Asia experience in the tech, space, aerospace, aviation, defence, luxury watchmaking, business, fashion, and automotive verticals. He is passionate about conserving endangered native wildlife globally and protecting the world’s oceans from plastic pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Arnold enjoys 4x4 off-roading, camping and exploring global destinations off the beaten track.
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