Middle East leads 2023 global travel as traffic exceeds pre-pandemic levels

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The Middle East has emerged as the strongest performer in the international tourism industry last year, being the only region to surpass pre-pandemic levels, with visitor arrivals beating 2019 figures, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said in a report on Friday.

Middle East

The total number of overnight visitors in the Middle East last year were estimated to be 22% above the figures for 2019, the tourism body said.

Other destinations, like the ones in Europe, Africa and the Americas, also had a strong recovery, but their total visitor numbers were still below 2019 figures, pegged at 94%, 96% and 90%, respectively, of 2019 traffic.

Overall, international tourism recovered 88% of pre-pandemic levels and is on track to return to 2019 levels in 2024, the report said.

An estimated 1.286 billion international overnight visitors were recorded around the world in 2023, up by 34% from 2022, while total expenditures reached $1.4 trillion, about 93% of the $1.5 trillion earned by destinations in 2019.

The UNWTO said that several destinations, including both large and established, as well as small and emerging ones, recorded double-digit growth in global arrivals last year when compared to 2019.

The positive numbers point to a complete recovery worldwide before the end of this year, according to UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

“The latest UNWTO data underscores tourism’s resilience and rapid recovery, with pre-pandemic numbers expected by the end of 2024,” he said.

“The rebound is already having a significant impact on economies, jobs, growth and opportunities for communities everywhere.”

The tourism body also noted that total export revenues from tourism, including passenger transport, were estimated at $1.6 trillion in 2023, almost 95% of the $1.7 trillion recorded in 2019.

According to the UNWTO Tourism Tracker, both international air capacity and passenger demand recovered about 90% of pre-pandemic levels through October 2023, based on figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Occupancy rates in hotels and other tourist accommodations around the world reached 65% in November, slightly above the 62% occupancy rate in November 2022, based on STR data.

Dubai, home of the world’s busiest airport in terms of international traffic, recorded more than 8.5 million global visitors in the first half of 2023, exceeding pre-pandemic levels, according to data released by Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism.

 

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