Statistics Show Middle East Tourism leads with 19% Increase
The World Tourism Barometer has released its second report of the year, revealing that international tourism is strongly rebounding to pre-pandemic levels. The first quarter of 2023 saw double the number of international travelers compared to the same period in 2022, with an estimated 235 million tourists.
The report also highlighted that international arrivals have reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023. Furthermore, revised data for 2022 shows that tourism has been resilient despite the pandemic, with over 960 million tourists traveling internationally last year, recovering two-thirds (66%) of pre-pandemic numbers.
The Middle East was the only region to exceed 2019 arrivals with a 15% increase and was the first to recover pre-pandemic numbers in a full quarter. Europe reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels, driven by strong intra-regional demand, while Asia and the Pacific accelerated their recovery with 54% of pre-pandemic levels.
The trend is expected to rise further now that most destinations, particularly China, have reopened. The UNWTO data also analyzed recovery by sub-region and destination: Southern Mediterranean Europe and North Africa have also recovered pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2023, while Western Europe, Northern Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean came close to reaching those levels.
International tourism receipts grew back to hit the USD1 trillion mark in 2022, growing 50% in real terms compared to 2021, driven by the important rebound in international travel. International visitor spending reached 64% of pre-pandemic levels (-36% compared to 2019, measured in real terms).
By regions, Europe had the best results in 2022 with nearly USD 550 billion in tourism receipts (EUR 520 billion), or 87% of pre-pandemic levels. Africa recovered 75% of its pre-pandemic receipts, the Middle East 70%, and the Americas 68%. Due to prolonged border shutdowns, Asian destinations earned about 28%.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said that tourism’s unique ability to bounce back has been seen at the start of the year. He also mentioned that challenges such as geopolitical insecurity, staffing shortages, and the potential impact of the cost-of-living crisis on tourism must be addressed, and tourism’s return must deliver on its responsibilities as a solution to the climate emergency and as a driver of inclusive development.
UNWTO’s Panel of Experts expressed their confidence in a strong peak season (May-August) in the Northern Hemisphere. The latest UNWTO Confidence Index indicates that performance during this period is on track to be even better than 2022. However, the effective recovery of international tourism in 2023 faces challenges due to the economic situation, with high inflation and rising oil prices translating into higher transport and accommodations costs.
Tourists are expected to increasingly seek value for money and travel closer to home. Uncertainty derived from the Ukraine crisis and other mounting geopolitical tensions also continue to represent downside risks.