Tourism Falls to Lowest Level in 30 Years

It’s no secret that one of the industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the travel sector. From airlines and hotels to attractions and tourist-dependent cities, health concerns and government-mandated restrictions have dried up demand. In fact, new figures show that international travel fell to a 30-year low in 2020.

Through October of 2020, international arrivals fell by more than 900 million — a pace that will likely mean a more than 1 billion drop for the year, landing at around 400 million. For comparison, the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s led to a dip of just 2 million and the 2008-2009 financial crisis led to a drop of 37 million travelers. With 2020’s plummeting arrival numbers, the year was on par with 1990. Additionally, the World Tourism Organization estimates that this contraction of the tourism industry amounted to $935 billion in lost export revenues.

While the world as a whole saw tourism decline 72% year over year, certain regions saw even greater drops. Topping the list was the Asia-Pacific region with an 82% decline in tourism. The Middle East was also slightly above average with a 73% drop. North America actually saw the smallest decrease with 68%, although that was just a hair behind the 69% fall observed in Europe, South America, and Africa.

Of course, it goes without saying that these abysmal figures are the result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While some international travel requiring strict testing and quarantine mandates has been allowed in recent months, most nations have restricted access to foreigners altogether. Moreover, winter spikes along with the spread of what appears to be a more contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus have caused some countries and areas to resume stricter lockdown measures.

The good news is that, with several nations now working to approve and distribute vaccines, there’s hope that the tourism industry can rebound in 2021. That said, it’s unclear what a realistic timeline will be for such a resurgence. As World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stated, “Even as the news of a vaccine boosts traveler confidence, there is still a long road to recovery. We thus need to step up our efforts to safely open borders while supporting tourism jobs and businesses.” Pololikashvili concluded, “It is ever clearer that tourism is one of the most affected sectors by this unprecedented crisis.”

Obviously there are more pressing issues than travel at the moment. Nevertheless, the obliteration of the tourism industry over the past year does have far-reaching implications for numerous economies. With that, hopefully the continued roll-out of vaccines will be successful and the world will be able to put the pandemic behind us sooner rather than later.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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