UN warns of $4 trillion global tourism hit as uneven vaccination rates hurt developing countries

The impact of COVID-19 on international tourism could cost the global economy more than $4 trillion for 2020 and 2021, according to a United Nations report published on Wednesday.

The report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development warned that the uneven nature of vaccination rates across the world was hurting developing countries, particularly those highly dependent on international visitors.

It noted that while some countries have vaccinated more than 60% of their populations, others have yet to vaccinate 1%.

International tourism suffered an estimated $2.4 trillion loss last year, the report found, cautioning that the global economy could be hit by a similar loss in 2021. A rebound in international tourism is expected in the second half of the year but the UN agency says the impact to gross domestic product from travel may be as much as $2.4 trillion below 2019 levels.

Read: Here’s how different countries are handling arrivals from delta variant hotspots

The $4 trillion in losses would be worse than the UN’s previous estimates from July last year for a $1.2 trillion to $3.3 trillion loss based on a 12-month halt to international travel.

UNCTAD acting secretary-general Isabelle Durant called for a “global vaccination effort” to protect workers and the tourism industry.

“Tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries, many of which are highly dependent on international tourism,” she said.

Source: UNCTAD based on Global Trade Analysis Project simulations.

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which jointly presented the report, produced three scenarios for 2021 — shown in the above chart. The first and most pessimistic assumes a 75% reduction in international tourist arrivals and causes a $2.4 trillion loss to global real GDP. The second scenario sees a 63% fall in arrivals, while the third assumes a 75% tourism reduction in countries with low vaccination rates and a 37% drop in those with high vaccination rates, including France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S. In the third scenario, developing countries would account for 60% of the global GDP losses.

Read: WHO says delta variant means even vaccinated people should keep wearing face masks

The first scenario is based on the fall in tourism in 2020, in which international arrivals fell by about 1 billion or 74%, the UNWTO said.

Source: UNCTAD based on UNWTO.


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