MADRID - International tourism bounced back during 2023 and is expected to make a “full recovery” to pre-COVID levels by the end of this year, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in its first snapshot of the year on Friday.

Travel was up to 88 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of December, with an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals.

The unleashing of remaining pent-up demand, increased air connectivity and a stronger recovery of Asian markets and destinations are expected to bring the tourism market back to 2019 levels this year.

Middle East, Europe and Africa

The latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer provides a comprehensive overview of 2023:

- The Middle East led recovery in relative terms as the only region to overcome pre-pandemic levels, with arrivals 22 per cent above 2019.

- Europe, the world's most visited region, reached 94 per cent of 2019 levels supported by intraregional demand and travel from the United States.

- Africa recovered 96 per cent of pre-pandemic visitors, and the Americas reached 90 per cent.

- Asia and the Pacific reached 65 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. However, performance is mixed, with South Asia already recovering 87 per cent of 2019 levels and northeast Asia around 55 per cent.

Four sub-regions exceeded their 2019 arrival levels: the southern Mediterranean Europe, Caribbean, Central America and North Africa.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said the data “underscores tourism's resilience and rapid recovery", adding that "the rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities everywhere; these numbers also recall the critical task of progressing sustainability and inclusion in tourism development.”

$1.4 trillion boost

The latest UNWTO data also highlights the economic impact of recovery with international receipts reaching $1.4 trillion, compared with $1.5 trillion in 2019.

Several destinations reported strong growth in international tourism receipts during the first 10 to 12 months of 2023, exceeding in some cases growth in arrivals.