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World Tourism Day is commemorated each year on September 27 to “foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value.” While this year’s edition of World Tourism Day was meant to celebrate the role that tourism plays in rural development and providing opportunities outside of big cities, the official theme was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a crushing impact on tourism around the world.
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.
Looking at the latest data covering the first six months of 2020, the UNWTO’s estimates weren’t far off, though. As the following chart shows, international tourist arrivals were down 65 percent globally for the first half of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. With the recent uptick in new infections around the world 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.
This chart shows the change in international tourist arrivals from January through June 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year.