International tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels this year

International tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels this year

2023 registered an excellent year for international tourism and, as a result, UN Tourism (UNWTO) predicts a return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2024. In some cases, such as international tourism receipts, many countries, including Brazil, are already well ahead of 2019 levels. 

International tourism at the doors of 2019 levels 

On the back of pent-up demand, the opening of borders and increased flight activity, some 1.3 billion international tourists travelled last year. The figure represents 88% of 2019, although Q3 (summer in the northern hemisphere) saw levels reach 92%. 

As the chart below shows, only the Middle East experienced higher levels in 2023, with 22% more visitors than in 2019. Africa, Europe and the Americas ended the year with a deficit of 4%, 6% and 10%, respectively.

In South America, including Brazil, the shortfall stood at 6.2%. The country saw a solid performance from its tourism sector last year and figures for Brazil exceeded UNWTO expectations.

Europe featured as the world’s most popular tourist destination, and the continent welcomed 700 million of the global total, the equivalent of 54%. 

“The latest UNWTO data underscores tourism’s resilience and rapid recovery,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “The rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs and growth.”

Economic impact of the return 

Revenue from international tourism reached around US$1.4 trillion last year, slightly below the US$1.5 trillion recorded in 2019. Export revenue from the sector totalled US$1.6 trillion in 2023, approximately 95% of 2019 levels. 

However, many countries reported international tourism receipts ahead of 2019 levels. Brazil was one of them, taking R$34.5 billion in revenue during the year, 15% more than 2019. 

The figure is the highest ever for the country and 1.5% more than in 2014, a record year for Brazil when it hosted the World Cup. In addition, Brazil registered the highest levels of foreign tourism receipts in South America. 

International tourism in 2024

The figures for 2023 and current trends in tourism lead the UNWTO to predict that 2024 levels will exceed those registered in 2019 by 2%. Confidence in the sector reflects these expectations, with 67% of tourism professionals stating they believe prospects to be better or much better in 2024. 

The UNWTO highlights visa facilitation in several locations around the world this year. China stands out, with visa-free travel for some countries in the EU this year while Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen Zone. 

Caveats include the pending full recovery in Asia, staff shortages in the sector and global economic and geopolitical headwinds. As a result, the UNWTO predicts that tourists will “increasingly seek value for money and travel closer to home”. Staycations look to remain a bit part of the tourism agenda yet again this year. In addition, “sustainable practices will also play an increasing role in consumer choice,” says the UNWTO. 

(Source: UNWTO)