Following the worst year in tourism history and a year 2021 that was only marginally better due to the persistent threat posed by Covid-19, 2022 marked the first significant improvement for the global tourism industry. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals reached 66 percent of 2019 levels in 2022, up from 28 and 30 percent, respectively, in 2020 and 2021. In the first seven months of 2023, international travel continued its recovery despite difficult economic circumstances, but remained 16 percent below 2019 levels, as the road to full recovery is proving longer than initially hoped.
While a brief rebound in the summer months of 2020 had fueled hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism sector, those hopes were dashed with each subsequent wave of the pandemic. And despite a historically fast global vaccine rollout, travel experts struggled to stay optimistic in 2021, as governments kept many restrictions in place in their effort to curb the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the coronavirus.
And while most of these restrictions have been lifted now, the weak economic outlook, geopolitical uncertainties and the inflation crisis have been weighing on the tourism sector's recovery. According to UNWTO's latest Tourism Barometer, industry experts remain cautiously optimistic with respect to tourism's full recovery, however, as travel demand remains surprisingly resilient in the face of these headwinds.
52 percent of tourism experts surveyed by the UNWTO in September 2023 expect international travel to return to pre-pandemic levels in their country either this or next year, while another 27 percent think that their country's tourism sector has already fully recovered. Still, 1 in 5 experts expect the recovery to take until 2025 or later, showing once more how hard the tourism sector has been affected by the pandemic.