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Travel industry takes off in 2022

Tourism went from one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors to a near standstill in 2020. But now the industry is resurging as the world recovers, with tourist numbers back up and GDP approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Charlotte Ricca


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New research predicts a significant rebound for tourism in 2022. Data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) suggests that the industry’s contribution to the global economy will reach $8.6 trillion this year, just 6.4% behind pre-pandemic levels[1].

Over the past two decades, tourism has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors, surpassing oil exports, ‎food products and automobiles. In 2019 its total contribution to the global economy was $9.2 trillion, generating 10.4% of global GDP and 10.6% of all jobs[2].

In 2019 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded, which was a 4%, increase on the previous year[3]. Furthermore, tourist spending grew by 6% per year, reaching $1,482.43 million[4]. In terms of popular destinations, 50.9% of all tourists came to Europe, 24.5% went to Asia and the Pacific, 15% to the Americas, 5% to the Middle East and 4.6% to Africa[5].
A number of factors contributed to the growth in the industry, such as the digital revolution, which improved access to information, increased leisure time, decreased flight prices, greater affluence and longer life expectancy.

However, in 2020 the pandemic brought tourism to a near standstill, with international arrivals falling by 74% compared to the previous year[6]. As a result, the industry’s contribution to global GDP declined by a massive 49.1% to reach $4.7 trillion in 2020, while 62 million jobs were lost.

But the industry is on the up. Research has shown that travel and tourism’s contribution to both the global economy and employment could reach almost pre-pandemic levels this year. In January 2022, performance was up by 130% compared to the same period the previous year, while international arrivals hit 18 million, which was the same increase as the whole of 2021[7].

Tourism in all areas of the world enjoyed a significant boost, especially in Europe, where arrivals grew by 199.3%. Elsewhere, tourist numbers in the Americas grew by 97.4% and in the Middle East by 89.3%. Africa and Asia Pacific have not enjoyed such a strong recovery, seeing a 51.3% and 44% increase respectively. However, they are expected to grow in 2022[8].

European governments introduced initiatives to help minimise the decline in domestic tourists. Italy implemented the Italy Cure rescue plan in May 2020, which included a holiday bonus of up to €500 for low-income families to spend on tourist accommodation. Other initiatives included grants for tourist activities in the historic centres of art cities, €15 million for tourism promotion and the See Sicily voucher scheme, which offered tourists a discount on flights, a free night’s stay, a free tour and entry to a cultural attraction.

As a result of the government’s proactive action, Italy rose from sixth to fifth place in the WTTC’s league table for travel and tourism’s total contribution to GDP, despite the country experiencing a 51% fall in GDP contribution from travel and tourism[9].

Prior to the pandemic, Italy ranked fifth in the top 10 for international tourist arrivals. Between 2015 and 2019, the average annual growth rate of international arrivals rose to 6%, which was higher than the world figure of 5%[10].

According to the latest Istat data, by January 2022 65% of arrivals and 70.3% of stay duration had been recovered from January 2019, with recovery greater for inbound tourists than domestic. While foreign travellers spent 33.2% less in January 2022 than in the same month of 2019, spend hit €1.5 billion, which was significantly higher than €400 million in 2021[11].

It’s not just Italy enjoying a recovery, because the whole of the travel industry is booming. The latest research from WTTC indicates that the tourist industry’s contribution to both the global economy and employment could reach almost pre-pandemic levels this year.

According to Julia Simpson, WTTC President and CEO, 2022 is “poised for a strong recovery” if governments continue to remove restrictions to travel.


"Our sector could recover more than 58 million jobs and generate $8.6 trillion, which would boost economic recovery around the world."

Julia Simpson, President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council

As people start travelling again, governments must implement simplified rules, including the use of digital solutions. Travel of the future should be contactless while guaranteeing safety.

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