Global tourism suffered its worst year on record in 2020, with international arrivals dropping by 74% according to the latest data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 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. This compares with the 4% decline recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis.

  • The tourism industry lost an estimated $1.3 trillion in export revenue in 2020
  • The travel industry's recovery will be slow as new COVID-19 variants are causing governments to continue using travel bans to stem the spread
  • Travel experts are now very cautious in their outlook, with the majority not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023
  • Between 100 and 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk, many of them in small and medium-sized enterprises


Coming off the worst year in tourism history, there’s little sense of optimism in the travel industry in early 2021. Following an estimated $1.3 trillion loss in export revenue in 2020, travel restrictions are being reintroduced at the start of the new year, as governments are trying to curb the spread of new, potentially more dangerous variants of the novel coronavirus.

While the brief recovery in the summer months of 2020 had fuelled hopes of a quick recovery for the tourism sector, those hopes have been dashed by the fall/winter wave of the pandemic. According to a recent UNWTO survey, travel experts are now very cautious in their outlook, with the majority not expecting a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023.


“While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said. “The harmonization, coordination, and digitalization of COVID-19 travel-related risk reduction measures, including testing, tracing and vaccination certificates, are essential foundations to promote safe travel and prepare for the recovery of tourism once conditions allow.”

When tourism does restart, the UNWTO Panel of Experts foresees a growing demand for open-air and nature-based tourism activities, with domestic tourism and ‘slow travel’ experiences gaining increasing interest. This is also mentioned in the latest report Vietnam Travel Trends 2021, released by Outbox recently.

Source: UNWTO