Before countries started to reopen for travelers, the tourism industry lost over a third of a trillion dollars in revenue as the pandemic brought travel to an almost complete halt, according to UN calculations.

n the first five months of this year, year-on-year tourist arrivals nosedived by 56 percent as most countries around the globe had to impose restrictions and lockdowns to contain the outbreak. In May alone, international tourist numbers dropped by 98 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

“This translates into a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism receipts – more than three times the loss during the Global Economic Crisis of 2009,” the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in a report published earlier this week.

Asia and the Pacifics, the region that was the first to face the Covid-19 outbreak, was hit hardest, losing 60 percent of visitors in January-May. It was followed closely by Europe, that recorded 58 percent fewer arrivals, the Middle East (-51%), the Americas and Africa (both -47%).

Such a decline could pose a threat to “many millions of livelihoods,” especially in developing countries, according to UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

Earlier this year, the UN tourism agency presented three forward-looking scenarios, pointing at possible declines of 58 percent, 70 percent or 78 percent in international arrivals this year, depending on how long tourism remains at a standstill. In another report, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) warned that the pandemic is set to cost the troubled sector between $1.2 trillion and $3.3 trillion. 

The downward trend in global tourism started to change in June, when some countries decided to reopen borders. The latest analysis from the UNWTO shows that 40 percent of destinations worldwide have now eased Covid-linked restrictions. However, only four out of 87 countries have completely lifted all restrictions, while 115 destinations (53 percent of all destinations worldwide) continue to keep their borders completely closed for tourism.

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