International Tourism's Resilient Comeback in 2023 and Bright Outlook for 2024

As 2023 unfolded, the world of travel witnessed a remarkable resurgence.


1/29/20242 min read

an airplane taking off from the runway.
an airplane taking off from the runway.

In 2023, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa stood out with robust recovery rates:

  • The Middle East: Surpassing pre-pandemic levels, this region saw a 22% increase in arrivals compared to 2019.

  • Europe: The most visited region globally, Europe reached 94% of its 2019 levels, boosted by intra-regional travel and visitors from the United States.

  • Africa: Nearly fully recovered, Africa achieved 96% of its pre-pandemic visitor numbers, closely followed by the Americas at 90%.

Asia and the Pacific also showed signs of recovery, reaching 65% of pre-pandemic levels. Within this diverse region, South Asia recovered 87% of its 2019 levels, while North-East Asia lagged slightly at around 55%.

Several destinations, both well-established and emerging, reported double-digit growth in international arrivals in 2023 compared to 2019. Notably, Southern Mediterranean Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, and North Africa surpassed their 2019 arrival figures.

Economic Impact of Tourism's Recovery

The economic ramifications of this recovery were significant. International tourism receipts in 2023 hit approximately USD 1.4 trillion, about 93% of the USD 1.5 trillion earned in 2019. Total export revenues from tourism, including passenger transport, were estimated at USD 1.6 trillion, nearly 95% of the 2019 figures.

Tourism's direct contribution to the global GDP was impressive, with preliminary estimates indicating around USD 3.3 trillion in 2023, accounting for about 3% of global GDP. This recovery was driven by strong domestic and international tourism.

Industry Performance Indicators

The sustained recovery was also evident in industry performance indicators. International air capacity and passenger demand recovered to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels through October 2023. Additionally, global occupancy rates in accommodation establishments reached 65% in November, a slight increase from 62% in November 2022.

Looking Forward to 2024

International tourism is on track for a full recovery in 2024, with initial estimates suggesting a 2% growth above 2019 levels. However, this forecast depends on the pace of recovery in Asia and ongoing economic and geopolitical factors.

The UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index survey revealed optimism among tourism professionals for 2024, with 67% indicating better prospects compared to 2023. Around 28% expect similar performance, while only 6% foresee a downturn.

Key factors influencing this outlook include:

  • Asia's Recovery: The reopening of several Asian source markets and destinations is crucial for global tourism recovery.

  • Chinese Tourism: Expected to accelerate in 2024, China is introducing visa-free travel for citizens of selected countries and improving air capacity.

  • Visa and Travel Facilitation: Initiatives in the Middle East and Africa, including a unified tourist visa by GCC countries and intra-African travel facilitation, are expected to boost travel.

  • European Momentum: Europe is poised to drive tourism results in 2024. Notably, Romania and Bulgaria are joining the Schengen area, and Paris is hosting the Summer Olympics.

  • US Influence: Strong outbound travel from the United States is anticipated to continue benefiting global destinations.

However, challenges such as inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices, and labor shortages in the tourism sector may impact recovery. Travelers are increasingly seeking value for money and opting for sustainable travel options.

Travel to Greater Heights

The latest UNWTO data is a testament to tourism's resilience and its rapid path to recovery. The sector's rebound is already having a significant impact on global economies, job creation, growth, and community opportunities. As we move into 2024, the focus remains on balancing this growth with sustainability and inclusion in tourism development, ensuring a robust and responsible future for the travel industry.