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South Asia is one the world’s most affected tourism regions due to COVID-19 pandemic: UNWTO

Developing countries have borne the biggest brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on tourism, and South Asia is one of the world’s most-affected regions.

They suffered the largest reductions in tourist arrivals in 2020, estimated at between 60 per cent and 80 per cent. Their economic losses are mounting due to the absence of widespread vaccination, says a new report.

COVID-19 vaccination rates are uneven across countries, ranging from below 1 per cent of the population in some countries to above 60 per cent in others.

According to a joint UN Conference on Trade and Development and UN World Tourism Organisation, the asymmetric roll-out of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries, as they could account for up to 60 per cent of the global GDP losses.

“Tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccination to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries, many of which are highly dependent on international tourism,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili .

The tourism sector is expected to recover faster in countries with high vaccination rates, such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, the report says.

But experts don’t expect a return to pre-COVID-19 international tourist arrival levels until 2023 or later, according to UNWTO.

The main barriers are travel restrictions, slow containment of the virus, low traveller confidence and a poor economic environment.

The UNWTO says international tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of USD2.4 trillion in 2020 due to direct and indirect impacts of a steep drop in international tourist arrivals.

A rebound in international tourism is expected in the second half of this year, but the UNCTAD report still shows a loss of between USD1.7 trillion and USD2.4 trillion in 2021, compared with 2019 levels.

The crash in international tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic could cause a loss of more than USD4 trillion to the global GDP for the years 2020 and 2021.

The estimated loss has been caused by the pandemic’s direct impact on tourism and its ripple effect on other sectors closely linked to it.

A similar loss may occur this year, the report warns, noting that the tourism sector’s recovery will largely depend on the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines globally.

“The world needs a global vaccination effort that will protect workers, mitigate adverse social effects and make strategic decisions regarding tourism, taking potential structural changes into account,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

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