Global Tourism Is Closing In on Its 2019 Pre-Pandemic Peak

Global Tourism Is Closing In on Its 2019 Pre-Pandemic Peak

by Mia Taylor
on April 26, 2023
Last updated: 3:30 PM ET, Wed April 26, 2023

The travel and tourism industry continues its steady rebound around the globe and is now within striking distance of the peaks reached during pre-pandemic years.

A new Economic Impact Report from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) shows that the industry has reached a 95 percent recovery rate. The WTTC also forecasts that the sector will generate $9.5 trillion in 2023, which is just 5 percent below 2019 pre-pandemic levels, when travel was at its highest.

What’s more, about 34 countries have already exceeded 2019 levels, says the WTTC.

The new data is based on a collaborative research effort with Oxford Economics. The research also shows that the sector is likely to recover 95 percent of its 2019 employment levels in the year ahead.

This robust travel industry prediction for 2023 comes on the heels of steady recovery throughout much of 2022. WTTC says that despite the many economic and geopolitical challenges around the world, the travel and tourism industry recovered steadily last year, growing 22 percent year-on-year to reach a solid $7.7 trillion.

Traveler in New York City

Traveler in New York City (Photo Credit: Getty/FilippoBacci)

In the end, 2022’s industry recovery made up 7.6 percent of the global economy, which was its highest contribution since 2019. Still, travel and tourism’s global GDP lags compared to 2019, remaining 22.9 percent behind its pre-pandemic levels.

Looking back yet another year, to 2021, the global tourism industry grew 24.7 percent year-over-year.

The war in Ukraine continues to loom large. Prolonged travel restrictions imposed by many countries, including China, have impacted global recovery, says the WTTC. On the positive side, China’s recent decision to reopen its borders will likely help the global travel industry tremendously when it comes to further recovery.

As is well-known, the COVID-19 pandemic had devastating effect on the global travel industry, including triggering the loss of more than 70 million jobs. At its pre-pandemic height, the industry employed more than 334 million people. As of 2022 however, a fair share of those jobs have been recovered. The global employment levels for the industry now stand at about 295 million.

Another high note from the new data: spending from overseas visitors grew by a record 82 percent to reach $1.1 trillion in 2022, showing that international travel is firmly back on track.

“By the end of the year, the sector’s contribution will be within touching distance of the 2019 peak. We expect 2024 to exceed 2019,” Julia Simpson, WTTC president & CEO, said in a statement. “The travel and tourism sector continues to recover at pace, demonstrating the resilience of the sector and the enduring desire to travel.”

Additional highlights from the WTTC report:

  • The global tourism body is forecasting that the sector will grow its GDP contribution to $15.5 trillion by 2033, representing 11.6 percent of the global economy.
  • The travel industry will employ 430 million people around the world by 2033, with almost 12 percent of the working population employed in the sector.
  • 34 of the 185 countries analyzed as part of the study have now recovered to pre-pandemic levels in terms of GDP contribution.
  • WTTC forecasts that by the end of 2023, nearly half of the 185 countries will have either fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels or be within 95 percent of full recovery.

Studies by other organizations have projected that the global travel industry may fully recover by 2025.

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