A year ago we ran our ATOM (Acorn TOurism Model) to forecast world, regional and individual country arrivals for 2020, just as the UK and many other countries were entering their first lockdown.  As it turned out, our expected scenario was overly optimistic, and tourism in 2020 ended up falling somewhere between our pessimistic and most pessimistic scenarios.

ATOM bases forecasts on origin-destination pairs, so works at a detailed level analysing the flow of tourists from source markets to destinations taking into account a number of factors including the source market economy, historical tourism flows, distance and modes of travel used between the two locations, the distribution of travel by purpose of visit, and now additional factors such as the prevalence of COVID cases, travel restrictions, COVID variants and the roll-out rate of COVID vaccinations.  Over 70% of world tourism trips between two countries are individually analysed making it possible to programme for situations in individual countries.

So what is 2021 looking like?

We forecast that world tourist arrivals will grow by 65% to 666.6 million, up from 403.5 million in 2020 – that’s roughly the same number of tourists that travelled in 2000.  Asia and the Pacific is expected to bounce back the quickest, up 88% to 120.9 million arrivals, followed by the Americas, up 82% to 121.6 million arrivals.

The world’s busiest region for tourism arrivals, Europe, is expected to grow by 57% to reach 363.6 million, up from 231.9 million in 2020.  Africa and the Middle East (up 65% and 37% respectively) will have a particularly strong mix of fortunes.  For example, in the Middle East there are expected to be some winners, such as the United Arab Emirates (up 98%), and others doing less well, such as Saudi Arabia (up 40%).

Around US$ 1.1 trillion was lost in tourist expenditure in 2020 due to the COVID-19 virus, with tourists worldwide spending US$ 408.6 billion.  You have to go back 25 years, to 1995, when so little was spent on international tourism, although growth is expected to resume in 2021 with a 74% growth to US$ 709.8 billion.

However, the model predicts that we cannot expect tourism to return to the heady heights of 2019, which broke all records for tourist arrivals and expenditure, until 2026.  That’s another five years!




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