International tourism has almost rebounded to pre-Covid levels, report says, as Middle East and Europe lead the way

International tourism arrivals reached 91 per cent of pre-Covid levels in the third quarter

International tourism has almost completely recovered from the pandemic, with many destinations reaching or even exceeding pre-Covid levels, a report has found.

The study from United Nations world tourism organisation UNWTO revealed international tourist arrivals hit 91 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter. Figures reached 92 per cent in July – the best month so far since the start of pandemic. The UNWTO said the recovery had come despite a cost-of-living crisis in many countries and conflicts such as the war in Ukraine.

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An estimated 975 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September – an increase of 38 per cent on the same months last year.

Tourists enjoy a beach in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.Tourists enjoy a beach in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Tourists enjoy a beach in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Overall, tourism recovered to 87 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in January to September, putting the sector on course to recover almost 90 per cent by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, separate data from IATA (the International Air Transport Association) and STR, the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker, reveals a strong recovery in air passenger numbers and tourist accommodation occupancy levels.

The report said: "Against this backdrop, international tourism is well on track to fully recover pre-pandemic levels in 2024 despite economic challenges such as high inflation and weaker global output, as well as important geopolitical tensions and conflicts.”

The UNWTO found the Middle East was leading the way in the recovery, experiencing tourism levels more than a fifth higher than before the pandemic in the three months to September. Europe has welcomed 94 per cent of the number of tourists it did before the crisis.

Many countries showed strong demand for outbound travel, with many exceeding 2019 levels. Germany and the United States spent 13 per cent and 11 per cent more respectively on outbound travel than in the same nine months of 2019, while Italy spent 16 per cent more.

UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said: “The latest UNWTO data shows that international tourism has almost completely recovered from the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19, with many destinations reaching or even exceeding pre-pandemic arrivals and receipts.

“This is critical for destinations, businesses, and communities where the sector is a major lifeline.”

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The report found international tourism receipts could reach $1.4 billion (£1.1bn) this year, about 93 per cent of the $1.5bn earned by destinations in 2019.

The Middle East boasted the best performance by regions in relative terms, with arrivals 20 per cent above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months to September, making it the only world region to surpass 2019 levels during this period.

The number of visitors was boosted, the report said, by visa facilitation measures, the development of new destinations, investments in new tourism-related projects and the hosting of large events, such as the Fifa World Cup football tournament in Qatar.

Separate figures from the Qatari authorities have estimated there has been a 347 per cent increase in the number of foreign arrivals in the country, compared to the previous year.

They said the rise had been attributed in part to a series of festivals and tourist developments, including the Lusail Winter Wonderland in Lusail City – eight miles north of Doha – as well as the World Cup.

UNWTO said Europe, the world's largest destination region, welcomed 550 million international tourists over the period. This was 56 per cent of the global total and up to 94 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

The report said the rebound was supported by robust demand from countries within Europe, as well as large numbers of travellers from the United States.

Africa recovered 92 per cent of pre-pandemic visitors across this nine-month period. Arrivals in the Americas reached 88 per cent of 2019 numbers for this period, as the region benefitted from strong US demand, in particular to Caribbean destinations.

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The Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic was recently named the world’s top tourism destination, following a post-pandemic recovery that has seen it welcome 14 per cent more international visitors in 2023 than it did in 2019, in its best tourism year on record. It welcomed ten million visitors for the first time – the same number as its population – in part, due to a marketing strategy that targeted remote workers, keen to take advantage of their new flexibility.

"Being number one in the world, an island in the Caribbean with ten million inhabitants, fills us with pride and satisfaction," said tourism minister David Collado, as he accepted the accolade from travel intelligence provider ForwardKeys earlier this month.

Asia and the Pacific reached 62 per cent of pre-pandemic levels this period due to slower reopening to international travel. However, performance among sub regions is mixed, with South Asia recovering 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, but North-East Asia only about 50 per cent.

The annual International Passenger Survey figures from VisitScotland for last year, published in July, found international travel to Scotland had shown strong signs of recovery from the effects of the pandemic by the end of last year. While the number of visits remained slightly lower than in 2019, the number of nights as well as visitor spending in Scotland surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

However, the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) warned this summer the domestic tourism market had been hit by the cost-of-living crisis. All but three local authority areas reported a decrease in visitors in June, when compared to the same month in 2019.



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