Tourism’s post-pandemic recovery nearly complete

[Image: Ahmet Tonel/Unsplash]

International tourist arrivals reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024 — boding well for the hotel, leisure and hospitality industries worldwide.

According to UN Tourism, more than 285 million tourists travelled internationally in January-March 2024, about 20% more than the first quarter of 2023, underscoring the sector’s near-complete recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

UN Tourism’s projection for 2024 points to a full recovery of international tourism with arrivals growing 2% above 2019 levels, thanks to strong demand, enhanced air connectivity and the continued recovery of China and other major Asian markets. 

Among regions, the Middle East saw the strongest relative growth, with international arrivals 36% ahead of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, or 4% above Q1 2023. This follows a strong performance in 2023, when the Middle East became the first world region to recover pre-pandemic numbers, with a 22% increase in arrivals.  

Europe, the world’s largest destination region, saw a more modest recovery, exceeding pre-pandemic levels in a quarter for the first time with 1% fincrease over Q1 2019 figures. The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of the year, backed by robust intra-regional demand.

Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 than in Q1 2019, and 13% more than in Q1 2023. The Americas practically recovered pre-pandemic numbers this first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels. In Asia-Pacific arrivals reached 82% of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, after recovering 65% in the year 2023.

“The recovery of the sector is very welcome news for our economies and the livelihoods of millions. Yet it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, aiming to advance sustainability and inclusion, while addressing the externalities and impact of the sector on resources and communities,” said UN Tourism secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.

However, economic and geopolitical headwinds continue to pose significant challenges to international tourism and confidence levels.

“Tourists are expected to continue to seek value for money and travel closer to home in response to elevated prices and the overall economic challenges, while extreme temperatures and other weather events could impact the destination choice of many travellers,” UN Tourism stated in its report on the latest figures. “Uncertainty derived from the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Hamas-Israel conflict and other mounting geopolitical tensions, are also important downside risks for international tourism.”