Global tourism to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024: UN agency

Plane watchers look on as a jet comes in for a landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, USA, 27 June 2022. (EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW)

TOKYO — Global tourism will likely achieve a full recovery from the COVID-19 shock in 2024, with the Asia-Pacific region having lagged behind other destinations in the number of tourist arrivals, according to an estimate by a U.N. agency.

Last year saw an estimated 1.29 billion international tourists globally, about 88 percent of the number in 2019, led by a strong recovery in the Middle East that reported a 22 percent gain in arrivals compared with four years earlier.

Compared with 2019 levels, tourist arrivals last year recovered to 94 percent in Europe, 96 percent in Africa and 90 percent in the Americas, according to the UN World Tourism Organization.

The corresponding figure for the Asia-Pacific region was 65 percent, with the Maldives and Fiji among the favorite destinations.

The recovery was slow in Northeast Asia, which includes Japan and China, with demand returning to around 55 percent of 2019 levels.

Japan welcomed 25.07 million tourist arrivals last year, about 80 percent of the level in 2019, government data showed, as a weak yen made the country an attractive destination for foreign tourists.

“There is still significant room for recovery across Asia,” the UNWTO said, while noting that in addition to an improvement in the Asian market, pent-up demand and increased air connectivity will help the world achieve a full tourism recovery by the end of the year.

It also said the recovery of Chinese outbound and inbound tourism is expected to accelerate this year, with Beijing granting visa-free travel to citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia for a year from December 2023.

Despite the positive outlook, the agency noted geopolitical risks pose “significant” challenges to the sustained recovery of tourism. The conflict between Israel and the Hamas militant group, which began in October, has heightened such risks, raising concern that it will spread to the broader Middle East.

Globally in 2023, tourism revenues reached $1.4 trillion, about 93 percent of the level in 2019. (Kyodo News)