Global tourism counts $320 billion losses in first five months, says UNWTO

By Luke Barras-hill |

The United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili has laid bare the extent of the damage to the industry caused by coronavirus (Covid-19) travel restrictions.

In a notice on UNWTO’s website, Pololikashvili says the rapid fall in tourist arrivals between January and May has cost the sector an estimated $320 billion – an impact three times greater than the great recession of 2007-2009.

He stated: “As UNWTO has said from the start of this crisis, governments have a duty to put the health of their citizens first.

“However, they also have a responsibility to protect businesses and livelihoods. For too long, and in too many places, the emphasis has overly focused on the former. And we are now paying the price.”

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili: Rigorous testing at ports and airports and tracing and tracking apps should be fully embraced, not just cautiously explored. Source: UNWTO.


While the recent reopening of borders to tourism is described as a ‘welcome relief’ for the millions dependent on the business, Pololikashvili says such actions alone fall short.

“Especially in view of recent announcements and measures which seem further and further away from the international coordination that UNWTO has been calling for since the pandemic erupted,” he continued.

“In these uncertain times, people around the world need strong, clear and consistent messages. What they don’t need are policy moves which ignore the fact that only together are we stronger and able to overcome the challenges we face.”

He called on those in positions of power and leadership to do everything they can to kickstart passenger travel, while implementing protocols that form part of the ‘new reality’.

“In recent weeks, global tourism has led the way in finding and implementing solutions that will help us adapt to the new reality as we wait for a vaccine that could be many months away.

“Rapid but rigorous testing at ports and airports, and tracing and tracking apps have the potential to drive the safe restart of tourism, all of which builds on the learning curve of the behaviour of individuals and societies during these difficult past months.

“These solutions need to be fully embraced, not just cautiously explored. To delay will be a catastrophe and risk undoing all the progress we have made to establish tourism as a true pillar of sustainable and inclusive development.”

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