Return to Pre-Pandemic Travel Levels Projected This Year - Along with Slow Down

Call it a return to normalcy.

Following a worldwide pandemic and a rapid recovery that sent travel revenues into orbit, two separate reports are suggesting 2024 will be much like the travel world we once knew.

According to the first United Nations World Tourism Organization World Tourism Barometer of the year report, international tourism is well on track to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.

“International tourism ended 2023 at 88% of pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals,” the UNWTO said. “The unleashing of remaining pent-up demand, increased air connectivity, and a stronger recovery of Asian markets and destinations, are expected to underpin a full recovery by the end of 2024.”

Here are some key UNWTO findings:

  • The Middle East led recovery in relative terms as the only region to overcome pre-pandemic levels with arrivals 22% above 2019.
  • Europe, the world's most visited region, reached 94% of 2019 levels, supported by intra-regional demand and travel from the United States.
  • Africa recovered 96% of pre-pandemic visitors and the Americas reached 90%.
  • Asia and the Pacific reached 65% of pre-pandemic levels following the reopening of several markets and destinations. However, performance is mixed, with South Asia already recovering 87% of 2019 levels and North-East Asia around 55%.

The latest UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index survey found that 67% of tourism professionals suggest better or much better prospects for 2024 compared to 2023. Some 28% expect similar performance, while only 6% expect tourism performance in 2024 to be worse than last year.

Professionals say there is still significant room for recovery across Asia. The reopening of several source markets and destinations will boost recovery in the region and globally.That’s good news for WestJet, which is now flying from Calgary to Japan (YYC-NRT) , and for Air Canada, which will launch service to Singapore on 03APR (YVR-SIN).

Meanwhile, Skift’s Global Travel Outlook for 2024 suggests this will be a “Goldilocks” year for world travel; not too hot and not too cold.

“We expect that revenue growth for the travel industry will decelerate: from eye-watering double digits to a more modest rate in the high single digits,” Skift said in a story on its website. “This slowdown is not a sign of weakness. Rather, there will be continued strength in the travel industry as business finally gets back to normal.”

Skift said it expects Asia “to finally experience strong growth after its prolonged lockdowns. Europe, on the other hand, is likely to moderate as pent-up demand exhausts itself and travelers shift their focus towards the Pacific.”

That’s good news for Asian destinations and also for Australia and New Zealand.

While it’s generally positive, Skift reports that relative to where the world would have been without a pandemic, their research estimates that the travel industry will remain 120 million international trips below potential in 2024.

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