Is it possible to have a worry-free vacation in 2022 after a pandemic?
According to the World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) first issue for 2022, improving vaccination rates, combined with fewer travel restrictions due to improved cross-border coordination and regulations, have all contributed to the release of pent-up demand.
International arrivals were down 62% in both the third and fourth quarters of 2021, compared to pre-pandemic levels. International arrivals in December were 65% lower than in 2019, according to limited data.
The entire impact of the Omicron variation and the increase in COVID-19 cases is not being determined.
In comparison to 2020, global tourism increased by 4% in 2021 (415 million versus 400 million).
According to preliminary UNWTO figures, foreign tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) were still 72% lower than the pre-pandemic year of 2019. This is in contrast to 2020, which was the worst year for tourism on record, with international arrivals falling by 73%.
Due to differing degrees of mobility limitations, vaccination rates, and traveler confidence, the pace of recovery remains slow and unequal across the globe. Europe and the Americas had the best outcomes in 2021 compared to 2020 (+19% and +17%), but they were still 63% behind pre-pandemic levels in both cases.
The Caribbean outperformed all other subregions (+63% over 2020, though 37% below 2019), with certain destinations approaching or exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
Southern Mediterranean Europe (+57%) and Central America (+54%) also had considerable gains, but they are still 54% and 56% behind their 2019 levels, respectively. North America (+17%) and Central Eastern Europe (+18%) also outperformed their 2020 forecasts.
Meanwhile, arrivals in Africa increased by 12% in 2021 compared to 2020, while they are still 74% lower than in 2019. Arrivals in the Middle East decreased by 24% in 2020 and by 79% in 2019. As many places remained closed to non-essential travel, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific were still 65% below 2020 levels and 94% below pre-pandemic levels.
Most tourism professionals (61%) expect greater prospects for 2022, according to the current UNWTO Panel of Experts. While 58% predict a rebound in 2022, primarily in the third quarter, only 42% predict a rebound in 2023.
International arrivals are only expected to return to 2019 levels in 2024 or later, according to a majority of experts (64%), up from 45% in September's study.
In January-April 2022, the UNWTO Confidence Index showed a modest drop. The essential conditions suggested by experts for the effective return of international tourism are a rapid and more broad vaccination roll-out, followed by a large removal of travel restrictions, and improved coordination and clearer information on travel regulations.
According to UNWTO projections, foreign visitor visits could increase by 30% to 78% in 2022 compared to 2021. However, this would be 50 to 63 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels.
As some nations impose travel bans and limitations for select markets, the current spike in COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant is projected to undermine the recovery and harm confidence into early 2022. At the same time, vaccine coverage is inconsistent, and several destinations, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, still have their borders blocked.
While international tourism is rebounding, domestic tourism is continuing to fuel the sector's recovery in an increasing number of destinations, especially those with strong domestic markets.
Domestic tourism and close-to-home travel, as well as open-air activities, nature-based products, and rural tourism, are among the primary travel trends that will continue to shape tourism in 2022, according to experts.