The COVID-19 pandemic cost the global tourism industry $1.3 trillion in lost revenue in 2020 as the number of travelers plunged, the United Nations said Tuesday, calling it "the worst year in tourism history."
Revenue lost last year amounted to "more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis," the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (WTO) said in a statement, warning that between 100 million and 120 million direct tourism jobs were at risk.
International tourist arrivals fell by 1 billion, or 74%, in 2020 with Asia, the first region to feel the impact of COVID-19, seeing the steepest decline, it added.
"While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over," WTO head Zurab Pololikashvili said in the statement.
While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is expected to "slowly normalize travel" in 2021, many countries are reintroducing stricter travel restrictions such as quarantines, mandatory testing and complete border closures "due to the evolving nature of the pandemic," the U.N. body said.
The European Union said earlier this month it is looking at a common vaccine certificate to help get travelers to their vacation destinations and prevent tourism from suffering another disastrous year due to the pandemic.
International tourism arrivals rose by 4% in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world's most visited country, followed by Spain and the U.S.
The last time international tourist arrivals posted an annual decline was in 2009 when the global economic crisis led to a 4% drop.
The WTO said most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism activity happening before 2023.
Turkey's tourism sector aims to attract 25 million foreign visitors in 2021, though tourism officials say it will take at least two years for the number of arrivals to reach the levels seen before the pandemic.