Skip to content

Global tourism may lose US$3.3 trillion

The global coronavirus outbreak could cause as much as US$3.3 trillion in losses to the global tourism industry if the pandemic lasts a year.

GENEVA (AN) — The global coronavirus outbreak could cause as much as US$3.3 trillion in losses to the global tourism industry if the pandemic lasts a year, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development reported on Wednesday.

That would equal 4.2% of global GDP. Even under the most optimistic scenarios — a quick end to four months of COVID-19 lockdowns — the losses will likely be at least US$1.2 trillion, or 1.5% of global GDP, the United Nations agency known as UNCTAD said in a 27-page report.

Global tourism accounted for 300 million jobs and 29% of the world’s services exports last year. France, Spain, the United States and China were the most popular destinations. But more than 10.5 million people have become infected and at least 510,000 have died from the new coronavirus since it was first detected in Wuhan, China in late December.

"Globally, the spread shows no sign of abating. Although daily cases in Europe and Western Pacific are declining, they are increasing in the Americas, South East Asia and Africa. In response, most countries have closed their borders to visitors and tourists," UNCTAD noted.

"The U.N. World Tourism Organization reported during the second quarter of 2020 for the first time ever that 100% of global destinations introduced travel restrictions," it said. "As a result, international tourism has been almost totally suspended, and domestic tourism curtailed by lockdown conditions imposed in many countries."

Bad to worse

UNCTAD presented three scenarios: the four-month hit to global tourism that has already occurred, at a cost of US$1.2 trillion; an eight-month disruption that would likely cost US$2.2 trillion, or 2.8% of global GDP; and a yearlong halt that could cost US$3.3 trillion, or 4.2% of GDP.

“These numbers are a clear reminder of something we often seem to forget: the economic importance of the sector and its role as a lifeline for millions of people all around the world,” said UNCTAD's director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton.

“For many countries, like the small island developing states, a collapse in tourism means a collapse in their development prospects," she said in a statement. "This is not something we can afford."


Youth and women hardest hit

The near-universal travel restrictions imposed by governments caused a 97% fall in tourism in April, on top of a 55% decline in March when the pandemic was declared, the U.N. World Tourism Organization, or UNWTO, reported last month. In the first quarter of this year, it said, tourism declined by 44% overall, causing US$195 billion in losses.

“The sudden and massive fall in tourist numbers threatens jobs and economies," UNWTO's secretary-general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said in a statement. "It is vital, therefore, that the restart of tourism is made a priority and managed responsibly, protecting the most vulnerable, and with health and safety as the sector’s number one concern."

UNCTAD previously reported the global coronavirus outbreak likely caused a US$50 billion decline in worldwide manufacturing exports from China in February alone. But on March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic — the worldwide spread of a new disease —  marking the first time a coronavirus has gained that distinction.

Restrictions and lockdowns imposed this year helped to slow the spread of the coronavirus in some nations, yet the pandemic keeps accelerating. Unemployment could rise to 20% in some nations and businesses could be wiped out if tourism is halted for a year, UNCTAD said.

The damage would be severe among youth and in developing countries, where tourism accounted for 300 million jobs last year. Most tourism workers are younger than 35, according to the International Labor Organization. And some 54% are women, UNCTAD said, indicating women and youth are "disproportionately affected" by pandemic-related tourism industry layoffs.