Global export revenues from international tourism. Statista/IBT

Amid fears that the newly discovered COVID-19 variant named Omicron could disrupt global travel once again, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published its latest update on the state of international tourism on Sunday. According to the latest World Tourism Barometer, global travel activity rebounded sharply in the third quarter of 2021, while remaining far below pre-pandemic levels.

International tourist arrivals increased by 58 percent in the three months ended September 30 compared to the same period of 2020 but remained 64 percent below 2019 levels. Looking at the first nine months of 2021, the situation looks even bleaker with international arrivals down 20 percent even compared to 2020 and 76 percent below pre-Covid levels. Looking ahead, UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said that “we cannot let our guard down and need to continue our efforts to ensure equal access to vaccinations, coordinate travel procedures, make use of digital vaccination certificates to facilitate mobility and continue to support the sector.”

While the latest rebound is certainly encouraging, the recovery of the global tourism sector has been going slower than many had anticipated last year. According to its latest forecast, the UNWTO expects international tourist arrivals to remain 70 to 75 percent below 2019 levels this year. That translates to roughly $1 trillion in foregone export revenues, which amounted to $1.7 trillion in 2019 and are expected to reach $700 to $800 billion this year. Even this forecast could prove too optimistic, however, if the Omicron variant turns out to be as dangerous as initially feared.