For tourism, the global response to Covid made 2020 the most catastrophic year in living memory. Until 2021, that is.
Remarkably, given that worldwide leisure travel collapsed by a devastating 73.9% during the first year of the pandemic (from 1.461bn overnight overseas trips to just 381m), the second year threatens to be even worse.
According to the latest statistics released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), international arrivals during the first seven months of 2021 were 40% below the already dismal levels of 2020, and 80% down on the same period in 2019. And you thought it couldn’t get any worse.
Those figures will almost certainly improve as data for the final months of 2021 arrives. Travel is opening up rapidly, with America finally lifting its ban on European arrivals this week. Conversely, the end of 2020 saw much of the world shutting down for a second time as it waited for the arrival of the vaccines. But they illustrate just how slow and painstaking our return to the pre-pandemic levels of globetrotting will be.
That said, not every country has endured a miserable year when it comes to tourism. Impressively, a small number are already inching back to a pre-Covid normal.
Among the larger holiday destinations, Mexico has been the clear winner.
For the first seven months of 2021, arrivals fell by “just” 34.1% compared with 2019, while during July 2021 (the latest month for which UNWTO has figures) it actually earned more in tourism revenue than in July 2019 (+2.7%).
How has Mexico made a relative success of tourism’s double annus horribilis? Simply put, by making holidays simple. Its Covid restrictions are almost non-existent. Visitors must simply register their details online before boarding their flight, and then show a QR code upon arrival. No testing, no vaccine requirements and no wonder so many have flocked there for a laid-back escape.
After a dormant winter, Europe has also fared relatively well. Turkey’s year-to-date decline of 58.8% (2021 v 2019) rates as a success in these strange times. During July 2021 arrivals were down by just 33.5%.
Croatia has seen a fall of 50.9% in 2021, compared with 2019, while the drop for July was just 21.5%. Both countries may well have benefited from less stringent entry requirements – they permit entry to anyone who is jabbed or has recently tested negative for Covid, meaning unvaccinated travellers can still visit.