Ukraine crisis threatens tourism recovery
MADRID, April 4, 2022: After the unprecedented fall in 2020 and 2021, international tourism is starting to show signs of a gradual recovery in 2022, but the Ukraine crisis could hamper progress.
On the positive side, UNWTO reports that as of March 24, 12 destinations had no Covid-19 related restrictions in place, and more destinations are easing or lifting travel restrictions, helping to release pent-up demand.
However, UNWTO warns that the war in Ukraine poses new challenges to the global economic environment and risks hampering the return of confidence in international travel. The US and Asian source markets, which have started to open up, could be particularly impacted, especially with regard to travel to Europe, as these markets are historically more risk averse.
The closure of Ukrainian and Russian airspace, as well as the banning of Russian carriers by many European countries, are affecting intra-European travel.
It also causes detours on long-haul flights between Europe and East Asia, resulting in longer flights and higher costs. Russia and Ukraine together accounted for 3% of global international tourism spending in 2020, and at least $14 billion in global tourism revenue could be lost if the conflict continues.
The importance of the two markets is significant for neighboring countries, but also for European sun and sea destinations. The Russian market has also gained significant weight during the pandemic for long-haul destinations such as the Maldives, Seychelles or Sri Lanka.
As destinations, Russia and Ukraine accounted for 4% of all international arrivals in Europe, but only 1% of international tourism receipts in Europe in 2020.
Economic uncertainty and pressures
While it’s too early to assess the impact, air travel searches and bookings across various channels showed a slowdown the week after the invasion, but began to rebound in early March.
The offensive is certain to add further pressure to already difficult economic conditions, undermining consumer confidence and increasing investment uncertainty.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that global economic growth could be more than 1% lower this year than forecast. In contrast, inflation, already high at the start of the year, could be at least 2.5% higher.
The recent spike in oil prices (Brent hit 10-year highs) and rising inflation are making accommodation and transport services more expensive, adding further pressure on businesses, government and government. consumer buying and saving, notes UNWTO.
This forecast is in line with the analysis of the potential consequences of the conflict on global economic recovery and growth by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The agency also lowered its projection for global economic growth in 2022 from 3.6% to 2.6% and warned that developing countries would be the most vulnerable to the slowdown.
Based on the latest available UNWTO data, global international tourist arrivals more than doubled (+130%) in January 2022 compared to 2021 – the 18 million additional visitors recorded worldwide in the first month this year equals the total increase for all of 2021.
While these figures confirmed the positive trend already underway last year, the pace of recovery in January was impacted by the emergence of the Omicron variant and the reintroduction of travel restrictions in several destinations. After the 71% drop in 2021, international arrivals in January 2022 remained 67% below pre-pandemic levels.
Europe and the Americas are the best performers
All regions saw a significant rebound in January 2022, but from the low levels seen in early 2021. Europe (+199%) and the Americas (+97%) continued to show the most robust results, with international arrivals still around half pre-pandemic levels (-53% and -52%, respectively).
The Middle East (+89%) and Africa (+51%) also saw growth in January 2022 compared to 2021, but these regions recorded a decline of 63% and 69%, respectively, compared to 2019. While Asia and the Pacific recorded a 44% year-on-year increase, several destinations remained closed to non-essential travel, resulting in the largest drop in international arrivals in 2019 ( -93%).
By sub-region, Western Europe recorded four times the number of arrivals in January 2022 than in 2021, the highest of all regions, but 58% less than in 2019. Additionally, the Caribbean (- 38%) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-41%) showed the fastest recovery rates towards 2019 levels.
Indeed, several islands in the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific, as well as some smaller European and Central American destinations, recorded the best results compared to 2019: Seychelles (-27%), Bulgaria and Curaçao (-20 % both), El Salvador. (-19%), Serbia and Maldives (-13% each), Dominican Republic (-11%), Albania (-7%) and Andorra (-3%). Bosnia and Herzegovina (+2%) even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. Among the main destinations, Turkey and Mexico recorded declines of 16% and 24%, respectively, compared to 2019.