Travel won’t fully recover this year — but it will get close

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The World Travel & Tourism Council says the global travel and tourism sector won’t fully recover this year — but it will get close.

The sector is forecast to reach $9.5 trillion in 2023, just 5% shy of the its gross domestic product contribution in 2019, according to the WTTC’s 2023 Economic Impact Research.

After a sharp drop in 2020, the global travel sector grew nearly 25% year on year in 2021, followed by a further 22% increase in 2022, according to WTTC’s annual report, produced in partnership with Oxford Economics.

Global recovery will occur in 2024, fueled by the slow but steady return of Chinese tourists, according to the report. From there, the sector will continue to grow.

“We expect 2024 to exceed 2019,” said Julia Simpson, WTTC’s president and CEO.

Regions recovering the fastest

By the end of 2022, tourism levels in 34 countries — out of 185 that were analyzed — rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in terms of GDP contribution, according to the research.

“Countries leading the charge include the U.S. and Dominican Republic,” Simpson told CNBC.

WTTC’s research predicts at least 50 more countries will meet — or be within 95% of reaching — this target by the end of this year.

“Our Economic Impact Research forecasts that North America and Latin America will recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023,” she said. “We forecast that Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia-Pacific will recover in 2024 and finally, the Caribbean is expected to recover by 2025.”

But in that context, recovery does not mean the same number of trips are being taken compared with before the pandemic, since inflation and rising travel costs have made it more expensive to travel.

The return of tourism jobs

And this year, jobs in the travel and tourism sector will recover to 95% of 2019 levels, according to the report.    

In 2019, 334 million people worked in the travel sector — an all-time high, it said.

But some 70 million jobs were lost in 2020, followed by a recovery of 11 million jobs in 2021 and 21.6 million in 2022, according to the report.

By 2033, the WTTC forecasts the travel sector will employ some 430 million people around the world, representing nearly 12% of the global workforce.

Momentum slowing in 2023

Travel demand in many regions surged in 2021 and 2022, as a steady stream of border reopenings kept travel momentum high.

But “we can’t expect that momentum to continue into 2023,” according to a forecast published by the travel risk intelligence company Riskline.

Higher airfares and hotel rates will severely limit travel in 2023, according to Riskline’s report. Travel disruptions, geopolitical turmoil and corporate sustainability practices will also take a toll, it said.

But several factors are working in recovery’s favor, according to a new report by the data intelligence company Morning Consult.

The report, published last week, shows that while willingness to travel varies around the globe, overall intent is trending up, bolstered by demand in South Korea and Western Europe, as shown below.

Share of adults who plan to travel in the next 12 months, based on a three-month moving average.
Source: Morning Consult “The State of Travel & Hospitality: H1 2023”

According to the report:

  • Travelers still prefer cutting travel costs to canceling their plans.
  • Bleisure travel is on the rise — particularly for trips that are primarily related to work.
  • Domestic travel demand is cooling in the United States this year, but Americans are planning to travel internationally more often.
  • Big city travel is rebounding, as concerns about Covid-19 are not “materially influencing travel behaviors” in the U.S.

Yet lingering Covid hesitations aren’t gone for everyone, particularly in parts of Asia.

Some 30% of respondents from the Philippines say they’re highly concerned about Covid safety —the highest in Southeast Asia, according to a report published Thursday by the market research company Milieu Insight.

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