UN Report Puts COVID-19's Impact on Tourism in Perspective

The tourism industry stands to lose anywhere from $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report by the United Nations.

In a policy brief published earlier this month, “COVID-19 and Transforming Tourism,” the UN forecasts international tourist numbers to decline by between 58 percent and 78 percent from 2019 to 2020. The projection equates to a drop of 850 million to 1.1 billion international tourists worldwide.

Putting the pandemic’s ongoing impact in perspective, the industry has lost approximately $320 billion in the first five months of this year alone, more than three times the loss brought on by the 2009 global financial crisis start to finish.

With approximately one in 10 people worldwide working in the tourism sector, the dramatic decline in travel could also put as many as 100 million to 120 million jobs at risk.

According to the UN, the losses are likely to be most detrimental to the world’s least developed countries, including places like Africa and small island developing states relying more heavily on tourism. Women and young people are also among those likely to be hit hardest by the pandemic as they account for the highest share of tourism workers.

As far as what’s next, the UN identified several priorities in recovering the tourism industry, including mitigating COVID-19’s socio-economic impact; building resilience across the tourism value chain; maximizing the use of technology; promoting sustainability and encouraging partnerships to help tourism support goals for sustainable development.

“Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors. It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. It boosts economies and enables countries to thrive. It allows people to experience some of the world’s cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other, highlighting our common humanity,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Indeed, one might say that tourism is itself one of the wonders of the world. That is why it has been so painful to see how tourism has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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