Global travel and tourism community is once again committing to working together for sustainable tourism development while celebrating the World Tourism Day (WTD) today with the theme of “Rethinking Tourism.”
Nations from around the globe mark September 27 as WTD. The event offers an opportunity for all the stakeholders to review the tourism sector’s important role in generating jobs and revenues, and showcasing unique and appealing tourist destinations.
The event aims to raise awareness among the international community about the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political, and economic values.
This event provides an opportunity to look at the future of the travel industry and implement plans and programmes to restart tourism activities as the earliest possible. It is time to focus on re-imagining the tourism sector’s growth. The official celebration of the WTD is being held in Bali of Indonesia, recognising tourism as a crucial pillar of development.
The General Assembly of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) held in Spain in September 1979 had decided to observe the WTD from 1980. This date was chosen to coincide with an important milestone in global tourism: the anniversary of the adoption of the UNWTO Statute on September 27, 1970. This event has been observed on all continents with different themes every year over the last two decades.
Tourism continues to be one of the sectors hit hardest by COVID-19 since early 2020. Travel and tourism’s direct and indirect contribution to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) accounted for US$8.9 trillion (10.3 per cent of global GDP), creating 330 million jobs, and 1 in 10 jobs around the world in 2019. But the present scenario is not so encouraging.
The disruption of tourism has had adverse effects on economies, livelihoods, public services, and opportunities across the world. Most governments of developed nations have been providing financial support, soft loans, and guarantees to the tourism sector for its recovery.
But the least developed countries seem reluctant to assist this sector financially.
From 2020 to 2021, the pandemic had an adverse impact on the growing tourism industry. International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide crossed 1.5 billion in 2019, based on data reported by destinations around the world. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, geopolitical and trade tensions, and the global economic slowdown, 2019 was a year of strong growth in terms of tourist arrivals.
On the contrary, the year 2020 was the worst year in world tourism history. Massive travel restrictions imposed in almost all the countries caused lower tourist movement and high revenue losses in 2020 and 2021. Destinations worldwide welcomed 1 billion fewer international arrivals in 2020 than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions.
The international tourist arrivals dropped by 74 per cent and the tourism sector lost $4.5 trillion in revenue and 62 million jobs globally in 2020 alone.
In the last two years, many countries imposed lockdowns, stricter travel restrictions, and complete closure of borders, including mandatory testing and quarantines. As a result, most of the countries had to face socio-economic challenges.
The invention of COVID-19 vaccines and planned vaccinations in different parts of the world contributed in mitigating the pandemic, easing travel restrictions, and slowly normalizing international travel.
Increased coverage of vaccinations in most affected countries and easing of travel restrictions helped tourism revive from the second half of 2021. However, the spread of the Omicron variant in December last year had negative effects on both travel bookings and flow of tourists. Airlines from around the world also suffered huge losses due to low passenger traffic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic in March 2020. As of mid-September this year, over 608 million infections have been confirmed, with 6.5 million deaths. However, 12.6 billion shots of vaccines have been administered in more than 180 nations. Despite this, the world is not totally free from its menace.
But it is a matter of great satisfaction that the number of COVID cases has dropped worldwide owing to vaccination campaigns.
As the world is recovering from the impact of COVID-19, global tourism is expected to bounce back by the end of 2024. According to a World Economic Forum study, embedding inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience into the travel and tourism sector as it recovers, will ensure it be a driver of global connectivity, peace, and economic and social progress.
Global tourism has witnessed many encouraging signs since the beginning of 2022. Many countries have been returning to normality, relaxing travel restrictions, and reopening borders. Most of the European and Asia-Pacific countries have reopened their borders to all vaccinated travellers. China that has adopted a ‘zero-COVID policy’ is also in the process of reopening to international travellers soon.
Though the global travel market remains below pre-COVID-19 levels, travel professionals expect a slight recovery of the global international travel market by the end of this year. The international passenger market is expected to see significant improvement and domestic tourism to flourish in many parts of the world.
Signs of recovery
It is because international tourism continues to show signs of a strong and steady recovery from the impact of the pandemic despite economic challenges this year. International tourism has experienced a strong rebound in the first five months of 2022, with almost 250 million international arrivals recorded, according to UNWTO World Tourism Baromtre.
This compares to 77 million arrivals from January to May 2021 and means that the sector has recovered almost half of pre-pandemic 2019 levels. The global tourism sector is heading on the right track this year, though the impact of the war in Ukraine could cost a possible loss of US$ 14 billion to the tourism economy.
Against this backdrop, WTD 2022 provides a forum for all governments, tourism-related organisations, and travel trade professionals to discuss the trends, directions, and goals to achieve in the coming years. Its theme aims to inspire the debate to revive tourism for development, employment, and economic transformation. Governments, private entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders should commit to working together revive tourism at its fullest while marking WTD.
(Tiwari is a former editor-in-chief of the Gorkhapatra Daily.)