Manuel Butler Halter, Executive Director of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), states that in 2021 tourist arrivals will increase by 66 percent compared to 2020, but still remain 55 percent below the levels recorded in 2019.

Covid and Tourism: The Two Possible Scenarios for 2021


As Covid-19 swept the world, many sectors have been affected enormously by uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Tourism is among the most affected sectors by pandemic. Will the sector, which survived 2020 with huge losses worldwide, be able to recover in 2021?

Manuel Butler Halter, Executive Director of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) gave an interview to BirGün and assesses the the future of tourism and projections for 2021.

Tourism has been among the industries most harmed by the pandemic, with the future of the sector highly uncertain. How can the industry restore traveller confidence and could vaccination offer a glimmer of hope for Summer 2021?

Restoring confidence is the key to restarting tourism. This means ending uncertainty around travel. People want to know what the latest rules are, and they want to know they will be protected if things change. UNWTO is leading the way in addressing both of these. Alongside IATA (the International Civil Aviation Authority), UNWTO has launched a new Destination Tracker. This feel-to-use online tool provides constantly updated information on the rules and regulations of both destinations and airlines. Alongside this, UNWTO is also developing a first International Code for the Protection of Tourists. This will give tourists greater consumer protection in emergencies.

And we continue to leverage our status as the United Nations agency for tourism to promote leadership and cooperation. We welcome the planned launch of the EU Digital Green Certificate, designed to boost confidence and reignite cross-border travel between EU member states ahead of the peak summer season, and call on other countries to follow this example. It is this joined-up, harmonized approach to restarting tourism that is the key, and vaccinations are just one part of it.

Do you think the pandemic represents a permanent shock for the tourism industry? How can that impact be mitigated?

This crisis is an also opportunity to place sustainability and inclusivity at the heart of tourism’s future. The pandemic has been a shock, yes. UNWTO’s data showed that, almost overnight, global tourist numbers fell back to levels not seen since 1990. But tourism is resilient. Interest in travel never goes away, and we know there is significant pent-up demand for tourism. UNWTO is working to ensure that tourism’s restart and recovery benefits everyone and is both resilient and sustainable. We are working with international finance partners including the IMF and EBRD to promote green investment in tourism, particularly in developing states. We are also advancing the One Planet Tourism Initiative, accelerating progress towards less waste and greater sustainability across every part of our sector.

When do you expect international tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels?

Based on our latest data, UNWTO has updated our outlook for the year ahead. We have produced two possible scenarios, based on when restrictions are lifted and other factors such as confidence and the success of vaccination programmes. The first scenario points to a rebound in July, which would result in a 66% increase in international arrivals for the year 2021 compared to the historic lows of 2020. In this case, arrivals would still be 55% below the levels recorded in 2019. The second scenario considers a potential rebound in September, leading to a 22% increase in arrivals compared to last year. Still, this would be 67% below the levels of 2019.

Looking further ahead, our UNWTO Panel of Experts, which draws on leading tourism professionals from every part of the world, expects to see tourism return to pre-pandemic levels in between two-and-a-half and four years. However, we should stress that the situation continues to evolve, making predictions difficult if not unwise

How will a possible vaccine passport affect tourism in the future?

The idea of vaccination ‘passports’ is not new. Certain destinations have long asked incoming tourists to show proof of vaccination against various viruses and infections. However, we stress that vaccinations are just one part of the solution to getting tourism restarted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Proof of negative test and tracking and tracing, as well as coordination of protocols between different countries and destinations also have a role to play. UNWTO works to ensure tourism and the benefits it brings are open to everyone and inclusive and non-discriminatory. This must remain the case.