Mexico became the only major destination to make a success of tourism during Covid

For tourism, the global response to Covid made 2020 the most catastrophic year in living memory. Until 2021, that is.

Remarkably, given that worldwide leisure travel collapsed by a devastating 73.9% during the first year of the pandemic (from 1.461bn overnight overseas trips to just 381m), the second year threatens to be even worse.

According to the latest statistics released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international arrivals during the first seven months of 2021 were 40% below the already dismal levels of 2020 and 80% down on the same period in 2019. And you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

Those figures will almost certainly improve as data for the final months of 2021 arrives. Travel is opening up rapidly, with America finally lifting its ban on European arrivals this week. Conversely, the end of 2020 saw much of the world shutting down for a second time as it waited for the arrival of the vaccines. But they illustrate just how slow and painstaking our return to the pre-pandemic levels of globetrotting will be.

That said, not every country has endured a miserable year when it comes to tourism. Impressively, a small number are already inching back to a pre-Covid normal.

Among the larger holiday destinations, Mexico has been the clear winner.

For the first seven months of 2021, arrivals fell by “just” 34.1% compared with 2019, while during July 2021 (the latest month for which UNWTO has figures) it actually earned more in tourism revenue than in July 2019 (+2.7%).

How has Mexico made a relative success of tourism’s double annus horribilis? Simply put, by making holidays simple. Its Covid restrictions are almost non-existent. Visitors must simply register their details online before boarding their flight, and then show a QR code upon arrival. No testing, no vaccine requirements, and no wonder so many have flocked there for a laid-back escape.

After a dormant winter, Europe has also fared relatively well. Turkey’s year-to-date decline of 58.8% (2021 v 2019) rates as a success in these strange times. During July 2021 arrivals were down by just 33.5%.

Croatia has seen a fall of 50.9% in 2021, compared with 2019, while the drop for July was just 21.5%. Both countries may well have benefited from less stringent entry requirements – they permit entry to anyone who is jabbed or has recently tested negative for Covid, meaning unvaccinated travelers can still visit.

Regional differences are stark. Tourism in Europe as a whole was down 74.7% in June (vs June 2021) and 57.6% in July – well above the global average – but it was trumped by both Central America (-48.3% in June and -48.2% in July) and the Caribbean (-37% and -32.2%).

Antigua recorded an impressive 1.6% rise in arrivals during July, compared with the same month in 2019, while St Maarten (also up 1.6%) and the US Virgin Islands (up an incredible 57.2% for July, and 25.1% for the year to date – we’d wager private jets and superyachts have made up a lot of that traffic) were other winners. These figures suggest some Caribbean islands have been making up for the lost time by luring visitors in summer – usually the low season for trips to the region.

Things are looking up for the Dominican Republic too, which has benefitted, it would seem, from relatively relaxed Covid rules. A year-to-date drop in arrivals of 40.9% over 2019 doesn’t sound great but compares favorably with the likes of Cuba (-94.1%), Grenada (-84.5%), and Trinidad and Tobago (-98.1%).

On the other hand, most of the Asia/Pacific region remains firmly shut, with arrivals still down 94.8% in June, and 92.7% in July. Of the region’s major players (pre-Covid, that is), Thailand has really suffered. It welcomed 39.9m tourists in 2019. That fell to 6.7m in 2020 (with the vast majority of those visits coming at the start of the year, before the lockdowns). The figure for 2021 is, to date, down 99.7% on 2019, although it has at least finally reopened its borders (albeit only to fully vaccinated people from 46 countries).

The situation for Australia (down 97.4%, year-to-date) and Argentina (down 98.2%) is equally dire.

“Looking ahead, most experts continue to expect a rebound in 2022, driven by unleashed pent-up demand, mostly during the second and third quarter of that year,” said the UNWTO, citing a recent survey. “By 2022, a larger share of the world population is expected to be vaccinated and more destinations open again, which would strengthen the gradual recovery initiated during the months of May-July 2021.

“In terms of pre-pandemic levels, almost half of experts continue to see a return of international arrivals to 2019 levels in 2024 or later”, with those in Asia and the Pacific being the most pessimistic.

It adds: “In Europe, half of the respondents indicate this could happen in 2023. The Middle East is the most optimistic with a full recovery expected by 2022.”

Source: Telegraph UK