Economist Review

Global Highlights and Risks, February 2020

Global Travel Service (GTS)

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Global travel faces a challenging year in 2020, as the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has thrown the travel and tourism industry into chaos. Extreme policy measures have been taken by governments around the world to contain the spread of the virus including travel bans for visitors from countries with reported cases, suspended flight routes to affected countries and the cancellation of high attendance events. Subsequently, international arrivals are forecast to decline 1.5% in 2020, which is considerably below global GDP (2.3%) for the first time since the global financial crisis. 

COVID-19 is set to devastate travel to the Asia Pacific region in 2020, with visitor arrivals forecast to plummet 10.5% and Chinese outbound travel to decline 21% in 2020. China, the source of the outbreak, has implemented radical actions to contain the virus, including lock-downs in major cities and suspended group travel. 

Inbound arrivals to Europe are forecast to slow from 3.9% in 2019 to 1% in 2020. Italy remains the focal point of the Coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with several towns placed on lock-down, while a ban is in place for those entering or leaving affected areas. Italy’s inbound and outbound travel are both forecast to decline in 2020 by 5.1% and 5.2% respectively. European airlines continue to suffer with Flybe having to seek a bailout from the UK government while Air Italy recently announced that it was going into liquidation. 2020 also marks the UK’s departure from the European Union, although it remains unclear on how travel arrangements will be settled. 

Inbound travel to the Americas is forecast to grow 1.0% in 2020, down from 1.4% in 2019. US inbound travel declined 1.1% in 2019 and 2020 is set to be another challenging year as the COVID-19 outbreak will negatively impact travel demand. We forecast a 24% fall in visits from China, while travel demand overall is forecast to decline 0.7% in 2020. Caribbean arrivals growth is also expected to slow, whereas Central & South America arrivals are set to gather pace in 2020, following below-par performances in 2019.


Sarah-Jane Trimble, Economist

Sarah-Jane primarily works on Tourism Economics forecast databases including Global Travel Service (GTS) and Global City Travel (GCT).

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Visitor arrivals to the Middle East expanded 7.9% in 2019, however a slowdown to 2.2% is forecast in 2020. Iran currently represents the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East and has the highest mortality rate among those countries that have reported cases. The impacts of Covid-19 have exacerbated existing issues for Iran inbound and outbound travel, as heightened geopolitical tensions with the US had already had a large impact. We forecast a 3.3% decline in visitor arrivals in 2020, and a 7% contraction in outbound travel. 

Africa inbound travel increased 5.3% in 2019, as growth in tourist arrivals to Africa continues to outpace GDP. Furthermore, Africa is set to be fastest growing region in visitor arrivals in 2020 at 3.3% as the increased efforts to build infrastructure and advance technology continues to reap positive rewards for Africa’s tourism sector. Covid-19 will have some impact on the region in 2020, but it is likely to be more limited due to a greater reliance on travel from other African countries where there have been fewer cases reported compared to the rest of the world. 

We continue to monitor the situation closely, and will be updating our forecasts to reflect the ever changing situation. 


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