Industries in Depth

Here's how international travel has suffered during the pandemic

Pegasus Airlines self check-in counters are seen at the nearly empty domestic departure terminal of the Sabiha Gokcen Airport, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Istanbul, Turkey June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer - RC2X6H9AXNI3

Airports have looked this empty since the start of the pandemic. Image: REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Felix Richter
Data Journalist, Statista
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COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 pandemic forced international travel and tourism to shut down at the beginning of the year.
  • Yet months later, tourist numbers are still down, with few signs of improvement.
  • International tourist arrivals were down 56% globally from January to March, compared to 2019, according to the UN's World Tourism Organization.

Earlier this year, the UN’s World Tourism Organization published estimates on how big the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on international tourist arrivals could be. The most positive of the three scenarios published in May assumed that travel restrictions would be lifted in July. Even under this scenario, which has already turned out to be too optimistic with international travel still severely restricted, the UNWTO expected international tourist arrivals to drop by 58 percent this year compared to 2019.

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Looking at newly released data for the first five months of 2020, the UNWTO’s estimates weren’t far off. As the following chart shows, international tourist arrivals were down 56 percent globally for the five months ending May 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. Considering that most travel restrictions only came into effect in mid-March, it can be expected that the numbers would look at least as bad, if not worse, if June and July figures were included. With the recent uptick in new infections in the United States and across Europe proving a major setback in efforts to reanimate the ailing tourism sector, millions of people are fearing for their livelihood, especially in regions heavily dependent on the influx of international tourists.

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No continent has been spared. Image: Statista
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