Confidence remain at record lows
• Confidence in global tourism continued to hit record lows in the period May-August 2020, according to the latest UNWTO Confidence Index survey. On a scale of 0 to 200, the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts rated the period May-August with a score of 22. An overwhelming majority (93%) of respondents evaluated the period May-August 2020 as much worse (69%) or worse (24%) than expected.
• This reflects a slower than expected restart of tourism during the Northern Hemisphere peak summer season. Despite a gradual reopening of international borders in late May and June, the rebound in travel was mostly limited to Europe and proved to be short-lived, due to a spike in contagions. Many destinations have since reintroduced travel restrictions and advisories which have slowed down the already weak pace of recovery.
• Expectations remain weak for the period September-December 2020, which covers part of the Northern Hemisphere winter season and the Southern Hemisphere summer season. UNWTO experts rated prospects with a score of 34 as compared to 25 for May-August, the lowest reflecting no major change in confidence levels for the remaining four months of the year. Experts mentioned the impact of the ongoing pandemic and the lack of a vaccine, as well as travel restrictions in all forms still in place (i.e. partial or full border closure, compulsory quarantine requirement, etc) weighing on prospects for the remainder of the year.
• UNWTO experts from Europe are the most pessimistic about September-December 2020, with 89% expecting worse or much worse results, followed by experts from Asia and the Pacific (82%), from the Americas (81%) and Africa (80%). Experts from the Middle East are the least pessimistic of all world regions, with 67% expecting a worsening of results in the last four months of 2020.
International tourism expected to rebound by Q3 of 2021
• A majority of experts sees a rebound in international tourism in 2021, in particular by the third quarter 2021, while around 20% expects it to occur only in 2022.
• Most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels happening before 2023. By regions, the largest share of experts pointing to a return to 2019 levels in 2023 or later are in Europe (74%) the Americas (71%) and Asia and the Pacific (66%). In Africa and the Middle East this share is 60% and 50% respectively. Half of respondents from the Middle East and 40% from Africa expect the recovery to 2019 levels to take place by 2022.
• Experts consider travel restrictions as the main barrier weighing on the recovery of international tourism, along with slow virus containment and low consumer confidence. The lack of coordinated response among countries to ensure harmonized protocols and coordinated restrictions, as well as the deteriorating economic environment were also identified by experts as important obstacles for recovery. Slow flight resumption was considered comparatively less determinant among factors mentioned.
• Domestic tourism is driving the recovery of several destinations but in most cases only partially, as it is not compensating for the drop in international demand. Among regions, respondents from Asia and the Pacific were the most positive regarding the contribution of domestic tourism to the recovery of destinations. Experts mentioned that domestic tourism has boosted the demand for nature-based products, such as rural and coastal areas, though meetings and conferences as well as urban tourism continued to struggle due to the lack of international visitors. The resumption of domestic tourism is helping the recovery of destinations with a sheer domestic size, though domestic tourism is not strong enough to drive the recovery in destinations heavily relying on inbound tourism. Furthermore, the pandemic has severely disrupted domestic travel in some countries, due to local lockdowns.
• According to experts, there is a high demand for countryside tourism in Macao (China), but this does not compensate the drop in demand from Mainland China. In the United Kingdom, domestic tourism is significant but below normal levels due to restrictions and local lockdowns, while in New Zealand the demand for domestic travel is high but not enough to drive recovery as most of the destination’s market is international. In the United States, where domestic represents 85% of travel spending, the pandemic has severely disrupted domestic travel demand, with an impact on tax revenues and funding for promotion.
UNWTO Confidence Index and survey:
UNWTO conducts a Panel of Tourism Experts’ survey to track global tourism performance and business sentiment every four months. In each survey, Panel members are asked to rate both the performance of the previous 4 months and the outlook for the coming 4 months on the following scale:  much worse;  worse;  equal;  better,  much better. The result is a Confidence Index for the tourism sector which has been published since April 2003. The UNWTO Secretariat’s aim is to continuously expand and improve the Panel sample. Experts interested in participating in the survey are kindly invited to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the most recent survey, additional questions were made to the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and the expected time of recovery. The survey was conducted during the first week of October 2020 and follows a prior survey conducted in July.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.