The Middle East’s travel and tourism sector is likely to reach $246 billion this year, just 8.9 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, according to new research from the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The sector contributed $270bn to the region’s economy in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the global tourism body said on Wednesday.
However, in 2020, when Covid-19 brought international travel to an almost complete standstill, the sector’s contribution dropped 51.1 per cent by more than $138bn, the WTTC said.
“The Covid-19 pandemic caused significant losses to the Middle East’s travel and tourism sector, but we now have reason for real optimism,” Julia Simpson, WTTC president and chief executive, said.
“Since the start of the pandemic, governments across the Middle East have shown real commitment to travel and tourism. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is making a major investment in travel and tourism.”
Aviation was among the industries hardest-hit by the pandemic ― with a domino effect on other major verticals such as tourism, hospitality and supply chains ― but it is gradually recovering.
Momentum in the recovery of global air travel has gathered pace as more governments ease coronavirus-related restrictions, according to data from the International Air Travel Association.
The global airline industry is “optimistic” about the outlook for air travel in 2022, as Omicron-related restrictions are eased or removed. Annual passenger traffic recovered to 42 per cent of 2019 levels last year and cargo volumes rose 7 per cent from 2019, Iata said in January.
With major markets reopening borders and easing restrictions to travel, the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to employment could almost reach pre-pandemic levels this year in the Middle East, WTTC research found.
If countries continue to roll out vaccination programmes at pace this year and restrictions to international travel are eased around the world, 6.8 million people could be employed in the sector by the end of 2022, just 40,000 behind pre-pandemic levels, the tourism council said.
More than 62 million tourism jobs were lost in 2020, leaving just 272 million employed across the industry globally, compared with 334 million in 2019.
Those jobs could return by 2022 if the global vaccine rollout continues and travel restrictions are relaxed, the WTTC said in a report last March.
The sector's contribution to global gross domestic product could almost reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022, with a further year-on-year rise of 25.3 per cent next year, the council added.
The travel and tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP nearly halved in 2020. It fell 49.1 per cent in 2020 to $4.7 trillion (5.5 per cent of the global economy) from nearly $9.2tn during the previous year (10.4 per cent of the global economy), the WTTC said.
This year “is poised for a strong recovery if governments across the region continue to open up their borders and remove restrictions to travel, which will have a massive positive effect on the economy, the society and jobs", Ms Simpson said.
To reach close to pre-pandemic levels this year, governments around the world must continue focusing on the vaccine rollout and allowing fully vaccinated travellers to move freely, the WTTC recommended.
Governments in the Middle East and around the world must ditch the “patchwork of restrictions” and enable international travel using digital solutions that allow travellers to prove their vaccinated status in a fast way, the global tourism body said.