International tourist arrivals between January and May 2021 were 85% below 2019 levels, reflecting a 65% drop on 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Despite a small uptick in May, the emergence of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) variants and the continued global restrictions are weighing on the recovery of international travel, the UNWTO added.
The organisation said, however, the domestic tourism continues to rebound in many parts of the world.
A report shows that over the first five months of the year, world destinations recorded 147 million fewer international arrivals (overnight visitors) compared to the same period of 2020, or 460 million less than the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
However, the data does point to a relatively small upturn in May 2021, with arrivals declining by 82% versus May 2019, after falling by 86% in April. This slight upward trend emerged as some destinations started to ease restrictions and consumer confidence rose slightly.
Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General, said that rebuilding trust to restart tourism would take place by “accelerating the pace of vaccination worldwide and working on effective coordination”.
It would also be affected by “communication on ever changing travel restrictions while advancing digital tools to facilitate mobility will be critical to rebuild trust in travel and restart tourism”, he added.
By regions, Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the largest decline with a 95% drop in international arrivals in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
Europe recorded the second largest decline in arrivals of an 85% decline, followed by the Middle East with an 83% decline, and Africa with an 81% decline. The Americas saw a comparatively smaller decrease of 72%. In June, the number of destinations with complete border closures decreased to 63 from 69 in February.
Of these, 33 were in Asia and the Pacific, while just seven were in Europe, the region with the fewest restrictions on travel currently in place.
Concerning the outlook for the reminder of 2021, the UNWTO said that international tourism is slowly picking up, though recovery remains very fragile and uneven. Rising concerns over the Delta variant of the virus have led several countries to re-impose restrictive measures.
In addition, the volatility and lack of clear information on entry requirements could continue to weigh on the resumption of international travel during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season.
However, vaccination programmes around the world, together with softer restrictions for vaccinated travellers and the use of digital tools such as the EU Digital COVID Certificate, are all contributing to the gradual normalization of travel.
In addition, domestic travel is driving the recovery in many destinations, especially those with large domestic markets. Domestic air seat capacity in China and Russia has already exceeded pre-crisis levels, while domestic travel in the US is strengthening further.