A woman wearing a facemask at a check-in kiosk at the airport.

Global tourism experienced a 4% upturn in 2021, compared to 2020. However, international tourist arrivals were still 72% below pre-pandemic levels according to estimates by UNWTO.

Zoritsa Urosevic, UNWTO’s Executive Director

In the three decades leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, world tourism grew steadily year on year. But in 2020, the industry suffered an unprecedent hit, accounting for a staggering 70% of the fall in global gross domestic product (GDP).

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has been constantly assessing the impact of the pandemic, and working hard to help kickstart the industry on behalf of millions around the world who rely on it.

Zoritsa Urosevic, UNWTO’s Executive Director spoke in depth to UN News’s Bessie Du, and highlighted the need to rethink the whole sector, boost rural tourism, and improve safety for travellers.

Audio Credit: Bessie Du, UN News - Chinese

Photo Credit: UNWTO

people running down a snowy mountain

Though its weather may be unpredictable, the beautiful Mt Jahorina in Bosnia and Herzegovina – a 1984 Winter Olympic venue – has attracted thousands of skiers for decades. But in recent years, nature admirers have begun flocking to the area in spring, summer, and autumn as well. The Jahorina community has noted the potential for year-round tourism, including outdoor and mountain sports, youth camps and activities, and conference tourism.

Tourism continues to suffer in the COVID-19 pandemic. Forecasts suggest a loss of over $4 trillion to global GDP by the end of 2021. This is a major shock for developed economies, but for developing countries, it is an emergency. With many millions of livelihoods in jeopardy, it is time to rethink, transform, and safely restart tourism. Tourism creates decent jobs and helps to build economies and societies that work for everyone. On World Tourism Day, we recognize the power and potential of tourism to advance prosperity and drive inclusive, sustainable development. 

Two women walk along a beach

The crash in international tourism due to the pandemic could cause a loss of more than $4 trillion to the global GDP for the years 2020 and 2021, according to an UNCTAD report. The estimated loss has been caused by the pandemic’s direct impact on tourism and its ripple effect on other closely linked sectors. International tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of $2.4 trillion in 2020. A similar loss may occur this year, the report warns, noting that the tourism sector’s recovery will largely depend on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines globally.

A house made of stone in a rural community.

The UNWTO has launched the Global Rural Tourism Start-up Competition to identify the best ideas that will help rural communities recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

island lagoon

Given the relatively small size of the populations of the Small Island Developing States, the cost of mass vaccinations will be minimal compared to the potential benefits of restarting tourism, says the UN World Tourism Organization

A sculpture of hands placed on the façade of a building

UNWTO and UNESCO collaborate to guidelines for the responsible restart of cultural tourism to ensure inclusive access to heritage, as countries around the world recover from the pandemic.

tourists in the mountains

The 25 winning startups, selected by a jury made up of leaders from across the tourism sector, offer distinct solutions for advancing the SDGs. The winning startups will now be given expert support and backing to develop further.

passenger with mask at airport

2020 was the worst year in tourism history with 1 billion fewer international arrivals than in the previous year, due to an unprecedented fall in demand and widespread travel restrictions. A meeting of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee focused on the integration of vaccines into a harmonized approach to safe travel and launching a coordinated effort to boost confidence in the sector.

passenger with mask at airport

With countries around the world now rolling out vaccines against the COVID-19 virus, the Global Tourism Crisis Committee, organized by the World Tourism Organization, noted that this opens a critical window in the fight against the pandemic and to promote the safe resumption of international travel. Members highlighted the importance of stepping up coordination, within the framework of the International Health Regulations, of vaccination certificates to ensure the implementation of common, harmonized digital related travel principles, protocols and documents. 

Tulpar-Kel lake, next to a tourist yurt camp

This has been a difficult year for everybody across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, and thrown into sharp relief the challenges we face as a human family. UNDP has emerged with a new sense of purpose to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular to address poverty and inequality. Here are our year’s best photos. Pictured is Tulpar-Kel lake in Kyrgyzstan. In the last decade, tourism has grown as a source of income for the Sary-Mogol population—almost everyone here is connected to the industry in some way. As the pandemic spread, the hit on tourism was felt across the country.

Southeast Asia scene

Based on the current evidence, UNWTO expects international arrivals to decline by 70% to 75% for the whole of 2020. In this case, global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago, with 1 billion fewer arrivals.

A top-down view of a woman on a rustic rowboat serving food.

After partnering back in May for a campaign asking the world to be patient, responsible and “travel tomorrow”, UNWTO and CNN team up again as the restart of tourism gets underway.

rustic room

The initiative of the World Tourism Organization and Sommet Education has received 600 applications. Out of the 30 selected finalists, the three winning projects will be announced in March 2021.