Two and a half years post-pandemic, there are clear winners emerging in the race to bring tourism economies back to their pre-pandemic levels — and Europe is topping that list, according to the latest data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Thanks to intra-regional travel, as well as American tourists flocking back to their favorite destinations, Europe scooped up 68% of the world’s 477 million international arrivals between January and September 2022. That’s a recovery of 81% of its tourist arrivals from before the pandemic hit.
The bulk of travelers’ pentup desire for vacationing in European cities or on Mediterranean coastlines manifested in the third quarter of the year, the data further reveals. That’s also the story of tourism arrivals around the world: Most of the bounce-back in international travel took place between July and September. That’s four months after the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine and following wide easing of entry requirements for the first time since March 2020, which boosted consumer confidence in transatlantic travel.
Following Europe on the list of fastest recovering regions of the world this year are the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas, reaching 77%, 63% and 66% of 2019 levels by September, respectively.
Looking closer at individual destinations also reveals a handful of non-European countries that have reported new records in tourist arrivals, beyond 2019 levels, according to UNWTO. These include Ethiopia, Honduras, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador, and Iceland.
That’s in contrast to the U.S., where overseas tourist arrival levels remained at 34% below 2019 levels in September. An estimated 7 million visitors are also likely to skip visiting the U.S. next year because of the extreme delays in visitor visa processing, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
By the end of 2022, the UN’s chief tourism body predicts that globally, the travel industry will reach a recovery of 65% of its pre-pandemic levels, bringing in approximately $1.2 to $1.3 trillion in tourism revenue, on track to its $1.8 trillion record. Tourism’s continued recovery may still be uneven, but it’s staying on track as we yearn to explore the world again in spite of inflation, an energy crisis, and a looming global recession.