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Global tourism's pace of recovery stokes optimism

By WANG MINGJIE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-06-10 09:29

Tourists visit Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 28. Tourism is rebounding more quickly in Portugal than in some parts of Europe, but the number of foreign visitors this year is still expected to lag behind the 2019 pre-pandemic record, the country's hotel association said. CARLOS COSTA/AFP

Global tourism has continued to recover at a strong pace as many destinations welcomed surging numbers of international arrivals in the first quarter of this year. Experts are optimistic that the effective recovery of international travel may occur sooner than previously anticipated.

According to the latest World Tourism Barometer released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism saw a 182 percent year-on-year growth in the January-March period, with destinations worldwide receiving an estimated 117 million international arrivals compared with 41 million in the first quarter of 2021.

The organization said that during the first three months of this year, Europe welcomed almost four times as many international arrivals as in the first quarter of 2021, while in the Americas, arrivals more than doubled in the same three-month period. However, arrivals in Europe and the Americas were still 43 percent and 46 percent, respectively, below 2019 levels.

Dimitrios Buhalis, deputy director of the international center for tourism and hospitality research at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom, said that there was a "very fast and rapid recovery of travel and what we call revenge traveling. Many people are attempting to recover the time that they were not able to travel during the COVID-19 period."

David Goodger, managing director for Europe and the Middle East at Tourism Economics, a research company, said: "We are seeing the recovery accelerating as the year progresses. Household savings spiked during the pandemic as people were not able to spend money on a range of items, including travel.

"These savings are funding the desire to travel, which will support pent-up demand, while many people still hold travel credit for postponed trips that they could not take during the pandemic," he added.

Although international tourism remains 61 percent below 2019 levels, the gradual recovery is expected to continue throughout this year, as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions and pent-up demand is unleashed.

As of June 2, a total of 45 destinations (of which 31 are in Europe) had lifted COVID-19 related restrictions. In Asia, an increasing number of destinations have started to ease their restrictions.

Despite these positive prospects, experts say a challenging economic environment, coupled with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, poses a downside risk to the ongoing recovery of international tourism.

Buhalis said, "Inflation, energy costs and the price of fuel will be a major challenge as these will inevitably push fares to levels that middle-class passengers will find difficult to pay.

"Consumer confidence, human resources in the tourism industry and the resilience of the tourism system are also the major stumbling blocks for global tourism in most parts of the world," he added.

The tourism industry lost considerable talent and is still finding it difficult to regain its previous vigor. "Massive flight cancellations by Easyjet and British Airways in the UK clearly demonstrate that," Buhalis said.

In the latest Panel of Experts survey from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, nearly half of those surveyed said they now see a potential return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2023 versus 32 percent in the survey conducted in January.

Goodger, from Tourism Economics, said: "We expect full recovery to 2019 levels of international travel by 2025, although 2024 should come very close and will see a recovery in some destinations."

The latest issue of the UNWTO Tourism Barometer also shows that $1 billion was lost in export revenues from international tourism in 2021, adding to the $1 billion lost in the first year of the pandemic. However, the amount being spent per trip is on the rise-from an average $1,000 in 2019 to $1,400 in 2021.

Richard Adam, an international council member of the World Tourism Forum Institute, said: "Spending per trip has been stagnating for decades for various reasons, including fierce price competition in travel offerings pre-pandemic. The travel industry hasn't fully ramped up yet. At the same time, people just want to get out again, which makes them less critical and less price sensitive."

Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of marketing and communications at Dragon Trail International, said inflation and the rising cost of air tickets-because of fuel costs and route availability-could also be contributing to this increase.

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