The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) expects international tourist arrivals could drop by 20% to 30% year-on-year in 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This revises sharply lower a forecast made on March 6 of a decline of just 1.0-3.0 percent due to the travel restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the disease and economic fallout of the outbreak.
The drop in arrivals will lead to an estimated loss of $300-450 billion in international tourism receipts, almost one third of the $1.5 trillion generated in 2019, the Madrid-based UN body said in a statement.
The UNWTO said it had revised its forecast to take into account “the unparalleled introduction of travel restrictions across the world” but added it “should be interpreted with caution in view of the extreme uncertain nature of the current crisis.”
The body had predicted at the beginning of the year that international tourism would grow by 3.0-4.0 percent in 2020.
“Tourism is among the hardest hit of all economic sectors,” the body’s secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said in the statement, adding “it is clear” that millions of jobs within the sector are at risk.
The UNWTO noted that small and medium-sized businesses make up around 80 percent of the tourism sector, which “leads the way” in providing jobs for women, youths and rural communities.
By comparison international tourism arrivals declined by 4.0 percent in 2009 during the global economic crisis and by just 0.4 percent in 2003 after the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed 774 people worldwide, it added.
Governments around the world have restricted travel as they scramble to contain the spread of the disease which has claimed over 37,000 lives worldwide since it first emerged in China late last year.
More than three billion people around the world are currently living under lockdown measures.
Major cultural events and business conferences have been called off to limit contact between people and airlines have drastically cut back the number of flights they offer.
International tourism arrivals rose by 4.0 percent in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world’s most visited nation, followed by Spain and the United States.
The last time international tourist arrivals posted an annual decline was 2009 when the global economic crisis hit the travel sector hard.
The tourism industry accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s GDP and jobs.