UNWTO: Middle East led global tourism recovery in 2023
975m tourists travelled globally between Q1 and Q3 2023
International tourism recovered almost 90% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, with the Middle East being the front-runner by world regions in relative terms, according to the latest World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data.
The newest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates that an estimated 975 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September 2023, an increase of 38% in the same months of 2022.
Global tourism is well on track to fully recover pre-pandemic levels in 2024 despite economic challenges such as high inflation, weaker global output, and festering geopolitical tensions and conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, says the UNWTO study.
Strong outbound travel
The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer tracked strong demand for outbound travel in several large source markets in the nine-month review period, with many markets exceeding 2019 levels. Germany and the United States spent 13% and 11% more on outbound travel than in the same nine months of 2019, respectively.
In 2023, the Middle East recorded tourist arrivals 20% above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September 2023. The Middle East was the only world region to surpass 2019 levels. Visa facilitation measures, the development of new destinations, investments in new tourism-related projects and the hosting of significant events helped underpin this remarkable performance, the UNWTO report notes.
In addition, Europe, the world’s largest tourism destination region, registered 550 million international tourists between January and September 2023, 56% of the global total. That represents 94% of pre-pandemic levels. The rebound was supported by robust intra-regional and solid demand from the United States.
Meanwhile, Africa recovered 92% of pre-pandemic visitors during the nine-month review period, and arrivals in the Americas reached 88% of 2019 numbers between January and September 2023, as the region benefitted from strong US demand, particularly Caribbean destinations.
Finally, Asia and the Pacific reached 62% of pre-pandemic levels between January and September 2023 due to slower reopening to international travel.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The latest UNWTO data shows that international tourism almost completely recovered from the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19 with many destinations reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic arrivals and receipts. This is critical for destinations, businesses, and communities where the sector is a major lifeline.”
Relying on data from the International Air Transport Association and STR, the data intelligence and global benchmarking company, the UNWTO projects a strong recovery in air passenger numbers and tourist accommodation occupancy levels in 2024.
Featured image: The Middle East recorded tourist arrivals 20% above pre-pandemic levels between Q1 and Q3 2023. Image: Chermiti Mohamed