The COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst crisis the global Travel and Tourism sector has faced in modern times. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, consumer fears and economic downturns led to a loss of $4.5 trillion in T&T GDP and 62 million jobs in 2020 alone.3 While increasing vaccination rates, easing of travel restrictions and economic growth have helped kickstart a recovery, it remains slow, uneven and fragile. For instance, while international tourist arrivals increased by 18 million in January 2022 compared to January 2021, which equals the total increase in 2021, they were still 67% below 2019 levels4 and, according to a recent outlook from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Panel of Experts, the majority of those surveyed do not expect total international arrivals to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest.5
Differences in travel or other restrictions and the pace of vaccination roll-out are also leading factors in the uneven nature of the global T&T recovery. As of 8 May 2022, 75% of the population in high-income economies had completed an initial COVID-19 vaccination protocol, while only about 52% and 13% of populations in lower-middle-income and low-income economies, respectively, had completed theirs.6 Lower vaccination rates create more uncertainty around travel policies, reduce consumer confidence and prolong the overall negative impact of the pandemic on T&T and on society in general. T&T recovery and travel confidence are also hampered by shifting cross-border and domestic regulatory environments. As of 8 May 2022, 20 out of the 30 largest T&T economies, which accounted for over 65% of direct T&T GDP in 2019,7 scored above the global mean on the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 Stringency Index, a composite measure indicating restriction stringency based on nine response indicators, including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans.8 The proliferation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 earlier this year, and the recent discovery of the BA.2 sublineage,9 also highlights the constant danger of new virus variants derailing the recovery.
As will be discussed in the key findings section of this publication, in addition to vaccine distribution and travel policy uncertainty, the uneven nature of the recovery is fuelled by challenges such as supply-chain disruptions, inflation, labour shortages and varied recoveries in domestic, international, nature, rural, urban, leisure and business travel markets. Moreover, the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine has placed additional stress on the recovery because it has created further supply-chain disruptions, increased energy prices, introduced travel restrictions, disrupted air routes and, overall, heightened geopolitical uncertainty and safety concerns.
Within this context, sector and government decision-makers in T&T are continuously reviewing their tourism strategies and policies to bolster recovery, address the aforementioned challenges and changing market dynamics, and position their organizations and destinations to succeed and grow in a post-pandemic world.
However, challenges posed by the pandemic and the ongoing recovery also highlight how vulnerable the T&T ecosystem can be to broader socioeconomic conditions and global risks. Social safety nets, access to basic services and workers’ rights have all been at the forefront of pandemic- mitigation policies, which is especially important for the T&T sector because of its ability to absorb unskilled labour and employ some of the most vulnerable populations in society. Moreover, longer-term risks related to overcrowding, natural and cultural asset preservation, more equitable development, resident liveability and climate change will likely resurface in the coming years. Therefore, sustainability and resilience will have to become integral to any T&T development plans and the sector’s vital role in global connectivity, peace and economic and social development.
The Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index (TTDI) is designed to reflect this reality by looking at “the set of factors and policies that enable the sustainable and resilient development of the Travel and Tourism (T&T) sector”, including everything from business, safety and health conditions, infrastructure and natural resources to environmental, socioeconomic and demand pressures. The analysis below uses the TTDI’s key findings to consider the current T&T landscape and the growing role of inclusivity, sustainability and resilience in rebuilding the sector and ensuring its long-term development.