Jungchan LEe/Korea Travel News 1 June 2023

International tourism is making a remarkable comeback, as new data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reveals a strong start to 2023, propelling the industry towards pre-pandemic levels.

According to the latest edition of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, global tourism has surged, with international arrivals in the first quarter of 2023 reaching an impressive 80% of pre-pandemic levels. This signifies the industry’s resilience and remarkable recovery. The report estimates that over 235 million tourists embarked on international journeys during this period, more than double the number recorded in the same period of 2022.

Regional recovery progress in the first quarter of 2023 has been equally impressive. The Middle East emerged as the top performer, becoming the first region to fully reclaim pre-pandemic numbers within a single quarter. In fact, the Middle East achieved a remarkable recovery, surpassing 2019 arrival figures by 15%. Europe reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels, driven by robust demand within the region itself. Africa achieved 88% of pre-pandemic levels, the Americas reached approximately 85%, and the Asia-Pacific region saw a significant acceleration in its recovery, reaching 54% of pre-pandemic levels, particularly with the reopening of destinations like China.

The report also highlights the recovery progress at sub-regional and destination levels. In Q1 2023, Southern Mediterranean Europe and North Africa successfully regained pre-pandemic levels, while Western Europe, Northern Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean came close to achieving the same feat.

Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the UNWTO, acknowledged the industry’s progress, stating, “The start of the year has shown again tourism’s unique ability to bounce back. In many places, we are close to or even above pre-pandemic levels of arrivals.” However, he emphasized the need to remain vigilant and address challenges such as the economic situation, rising costs, and geopolitical tensions, including the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

In 2022, international tourism receipts surpassed the USD 1 trillion mark, representing a 50% growth in real terms compared to 2021. International visitor spending reached 64% of pre-pandemic levels, experiencing a decline of 36% compared to 2019. Europe boasted the strongest performance in terms of tourism receipts, reaching 87% of pre-pandemic levels, followed by Africa (75%), the Middle East (70%), and the Americas (68%). Asian destinations faced greater challenges due to prolonged border closures, with earnings only reaching 28% of 2019 levels.

Looking ahead, the data from the first quarter of 2023 aligns with UNWTO’s projections for the year, anticipating international arrivals to recover between 80% and 95% of pre-pandemic levels. The UNWTO Panel of Experts expressed confidence in a strong peak season from May to August in the Northern Hemisphere.

While the tourism industry’s recovery faces challenges, such as the economic situation and geopolitical tensions, the promising data from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer demonstrates that the global tourism industry is well on its way to a full recovery. The resurgence of international travel not only contributes to economic growth but also underscores the industry’s commitment to addressing climate change and promoting inclusive development. Continued monitoring and adaptation will be crucial to ensure sustained recovery and future success in the industry.