According to UN tourism data, more than 285 million tourists travelled internationally in January-March, up around 20% compared to the first quarter of 2023, confirming that the sector is almost fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic. International tourist arrivals in 2023 reached 89% of 2019 levels, while tourism export earnings climbed to 97% and direct tourism GDP reached 2019 levels. The UN Tourism Organisation forecasts that international tourism will fully recover in 2024, with arrivals rising 2% above 2019 levels. Key findings according to the latest data:

  • In 2023, the Middle East became the first region in the world to regain its pre-epidemic numbers (+22%).
  • Europe, the world’s largest destination region, surpassed its pre-epidemic level for the first time in a quarter (+1% compared to Q1 2019). The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of the year, supported by strong demand within the region.
  • Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in Q1 2024 than in Q1 2019 and 13% more than in Q1 2023.
  • The Americas virtually recovered to pre-pandemic numbers in this first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels.
  • International tourism is booming in Asia and the Pacific, with arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 reaching 82% of their pre-pandemic level, after a 65% drop in 2023.

International tourism receipts reached US$1.5 trillion in 2023, representing a full recovery from pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, but 97% in real terms, adjusted for inflation. By region, Europe generated the highest revenues in 2023, with destinations earning US$660 billion, up 7% in real terms from pre-epidemic levels. Total export revenues from international tourism, including both receipts and passenger traffic, reached US$1.7 trillion in 2023, 96% of pre-pandemic levels in real terms. Direct tourism GDP has recovered to pre-pandemic levels and is estimated to reach US$3.3 trillion in 2023, equivalent to 3% of global GDP. Based on available data, several destinations have made notable gains in terms of revenue this quarter compared to 2019 levels, including Serbia (+127%), Turkey (+82%), Pakistan (+72%), Tanzania (+62%), Portugal (+61%), Romania (+57%).

International tourism is expected to fully recover in 2024, supported by strong demand, improved air connectivity and the continued recovery of China and other major Asian markets. The latest United Nations Tourism Confidence Index shows a positive outlook for the coming summer season, with a score of 130 (on a scale of 0 to 200) for the May-August 2024 period, reflecting a more positive sentiment compared to the beginning of this year.

According to the UN’s tourism expert body, international tourism faces significant challenges due to economic and geopolitical factors. According to the IMF report, economic recovery is slow and varies by region. Persistent inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and trade disruptions mean that transport and accommodation costs remain high. Tourists tend to seek value for money and prefer nearby destinations, while extreme weather events also affect their travel. Geopolitical tensions, such as Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Hamas-Israel conflict, are also causing uncertainty. To boost international tourism, governments need to improve tourism governance to put the interests of communities and residents first (UN Tourism).