International arrivals to the Middle East have reached 77% of pre-pandemic levels as the tourism sector picks up

RIYADH: Tourism in the Middle East continued to struggle post-COVID-19 in the first nine months of 2022 as international arrivals reached 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to a report by the United Nations.

Analysis by the organization’s World Tourism Organization, known as UNWTO, showed that the global tourism sector is on track to reach 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels of international visitors by the end of the year.

The UNWTO also indicated that about 700 million passengers traveled internationally in the first nine months of this year, more than double the number in the same period last year.

The figure of 700 million is also 63 percent of 2019 levels, indicating strong growth for the tourism sector, as the horror of the pandemic has faded this year.

According to the report, some 340 million passengers traveled internationally in the third quarter of 2022, and the number of international arrivals to the Middle East already exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 3 percent in September.

“The results were underpinned by strong pent-up demand, improved levels of confidence and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations,” the UNWTO said in the report.

The report added that export revenues from tourism could reach $1.2 to $1.3 trillion in 2022, an increase of 60-70 percent over 2021, or 70-80 percent of the $1.8 trillion recorded in 2019.

According to the report, Europe is leading as the tourism sector thrives to achieve pre-pandemic levels of international visitors.

The report indicated that Europe received 477 million international tourists in the period from January to September, which is equivalent to 68 percent of the global figures.

“Europe experienced a particularly strong performance in the third quarter, when arrivals reached nearly 90 percent of 2019 levels,” the UNWTO said.

Africa and the Americas also registered strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63 percent and 66 percent of 2019 levels, respectively.

The UNWTO also noted that China, a major market in the Asian region, remains largely closed due to strict restrictions related to COVID-19.

Some of the destinations that exceeded pre-pandemic levels of international arrivals in the first nine months were Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.

The report added, “A recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from key source markets, with strong results from France where spending reached -8% through September, compared to 2019.”

The report also mentioned that some of the markets in which external spending increased include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States and India.

However, the UNWTO warned that the challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, could affect the pace of recovery in the fourth quarter and into 2023.

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