International tourist numbers could fall by 80%, data shows

International tourist numbers could fall by as much as 80%, according to the United Nations.
International tourist numbers could fall by 80%, data shows

International tourist numbers could fall by as much as 80%, according to the United Nations.

The picture could be even more bleak in Ireland, with tourism representative groups not anticipating any international travel of note until late this year or, even, next year.

The latest data from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a 22% fall in international tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2020.

According to the UN agency, the lockdown measures and concerns over air and sea travel, as well as the economic impact of the virus, will all combine to cause an annual decline of between 60% and 80% when compared to 2019 figures.

The study maps out three scenarios based on the gradual opening of international borders and the easing of travel restrictions. If this happens globally by early July, the market will decline by 58% this year. If it happens in September, the fall will be in the region of 70%; and if it does not happen until December, the market will fall by 78%.

It threatens more than 100 million jobs, according to UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, with Europe and Asia the worst affected to date.

Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), said the picture is particularly bleak for Irish tourism.

Traders in Europe are among the most optimistic of recovery later this year according to the UNWTO report but, Mr O'Mara Walsh said, those on the continent benefit from land borders with their neighbours in most cases.

For Ireland, which is entirely dependent on air and sea travel, it could take much longer to engineer a recovery for tourism businesses.

We don't expect any international tourism of note in 2020 at all. As an island nation, we're dependent on air and sea travel and all intelligence available suggests this won't recover this year. It is 2021 we are looking at to kick-start the recovery.

IAG, the airline group which owns Aer Lingus, confirmed that it has grounded 94% of its passenger fleet and it does not expect demand to recover to 2019 levels until 2023 "at the earliest".

While a strong domestic market could serve as a boost for tourism operators later in the year, once Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, Mr O'Mara Walsh said the international market accounts for some 75% of business in the country.

ITIC has mapped out a nine-point plan to support the domestic market under such strains, including calls for a 0% VAT rate, a €1 billion support fund for tourism and hospitality businesses and the creation of a dedicated Department of Tourism.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA), said predictions of 60% to 80% "definitely" seem accurate.

Mr Dawson said there is an appetite for travel, with many of the summer 2020 bookings being rearranged for later this year and 2021, but noted that people are wary of flying.

"We don't forecast significant travel until September or October, at the earliest," he said.

"The issue is we are dependent not just on things going in the right direction in Ireland but also in other countries."

ITAA has urged the Government to implement credit notes for cancelled bookings in order to protect travel agents who are under severe financial pressure due to the market collapse.

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