There were positive signs in the last year globally, as tourism-recovery accelerated to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels. COVID-19 hit the tourism industry hard; however, as predicted, there was always going to be a rebound because tourists cannot and will not stop travelling. A friend was telling me his fiancé was in Ghana from the US last December. I also had three family members travelling to Ghana last month. While at the airport to pick them up, I lost count of the number of Ghanaians who were returning home for the festive season. Indeed, many tourists were around – foreign ones as well. According to UNWTO, International tourism is on track to reach 65% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022 as the sector continues to bounce back from the pandemic.
An estimated 700 million tourists travelled internationally between January and September, more than double (+133%) the number recorded for the same period in 2021. Knowing that many trips happened in December, the anticipated number will increase further. This equates to 63% of 2019 levels and puts the sector on course to reach 65% of its pre-pandemic levels this year, in line with UNWTO scenarios.
Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations. Highlighting the speed at which the sector has recovered from the worst crisis in its history, the latest World Tourism Barometer from UNWTO reveals that monthly arrivals were 64% below 2019 levels in January 2022 and had reached -27% by September. An estimated 340 million international arrivals were recorded in the third quarter of 2022 alone, almost 50% of the nine-month total.
Europe continues to lead global recovery
Europe continues to lead in the revival of international tourism
The region welcomed 477 million international arrivals in January-September 2022 (68% of the world total), hitting 81% of pre-pandemic levels. This was more than double that of 2021 (+126%), with results boosted by strong intra-regional demand and travel from the United States. Europe saw particularly robust performance in Q3, when arrivals reached almost 90% of 2019 levels.
At the same time, the Middle East saw international arrivals more than triple (+225%) year on year in January-September 2022 – climbing to 77% of pre-pandemic levels. Africa (+166%). And the Americas (+106%) also recorded strong growth compared to 2021, reaching 63% and 66% of 2019 levels respectively. In Asia and the Pacific (+230%) arrivals more than tripled in the first nine months of 2022, reflecting the opening of many destinations, including Japan, at the end of September. However, arrivals in Asia and the Pacific remained 83% below 2019 levels. China, a key source market for the region, remains closed.
Arrivals and receipts at – or above – pre-pandemic levels
Several sub-regions reached 80% to 90% of their pre-pandemic arrivals in January-September 2022. Western Europe (88%) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (86%) saw the fastest recovery toward 2019 levels. The Caribbean, Central America (both 82%) and Northern Europe (81%) also recorded strong results. Destinations reporting arrivals above pre-pandemic levels in the nine months through September include Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland.
In the month of September, arrivals surpassed pre-pandemic levels in the Middle East (+3% over 2019) and the Caribbean (+1%); and came close in Central America (-7%), Northern Europe (-9%) and Southern and Mediterranean Europe (-10%).
Meanwhile, some destinations recorded notable increases in international tourism receipts during the first seven to nine months of 2022: including Serbia, Romania, Türkiye, Latvia, Portugal, Pakistan, Mexico, Morocco and France. The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France – where expenditure reached -8% through September compared to 2019. Other markets reporting strong spending in the first six to nine months of 2022 were Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United States, Qatar, India and Saudi Arabia.
Strong demand for air travel and hotel accommodation
The robust recovery of tourism is also reflected in various industry indicators like air capacity and hotel metrics, as recorded in the UNWTO Tourism Recovery Tracker. Air seat capacity on international routes (measured in available seat-kilometres or ASKs) in January-August reached 62% of 2019 levels, with Europe (78%) and the Americas (76%) posting the strongest results. Worldwide domestic capacity rose to 86% of 2019 levels, with the Middle East (99%) virtually achieving pre-pandemic levels (IATA).
Meanwhile, according to STR, global hotel occupancy rates reached 66% in September 2022 from 43% in January. Europe led the way with occupancy levels of 77% in September 2022, following rates at 74% in July and August. The Americas (66%), Middle East (63%) and Africa (61%) all saw occupancy rates above 60% in September. By sub-region, Southern Mediterranean Europe (79%), Western Europe (75%) and Oceania (70%) showed the highest occupancy rates in September 2022.
The challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices – aggravated by the Russian offensive in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in Q4 and into 2023. The latest survey among the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows a downgrade in confidence levels for the last four months of 2022, reflecting more cautious optimism. Despite growing challenges pointing to a softening of the recovery pace, export revenues from tourism could reach US$1.2 to US$1.3trillion in 2022, a 60-70% increase over 2021 or 70-80% of the US$1.8trillion recorded in 2019.
Among the many visitors was Dave Chappelle. As part of the ‘Beyond The Return’ initiative, he made it here and is one of the biggest names from the US following the previous arrival of Steve Harvey, Beyonce and Usher, just to mention a few. Jay-Z, who is reported to own properties in Ghana, was instrumental in bringing the world-acclaimed comedian. Dave has made it known that he has an interest in making a home in Ghana. He has been influenced by Stevie Wonder, who intends relocating to Ghana.
Dave Chapelle has promised a return to Ghana to set up a comedy club. According to Olele, “He assured the Ghanaian comedians who were in the room (DKB, Lekzy, OB, etc.) that he would visit their comedy clubs in Ghana when he returns”. In a conversation with model Naomi Campbell on her podcast in April 2021, the comedian said his decision was inspired by award-winning Soul singer Steve Wonder; who said in an interview recently that he wants to relocate permanently to Ghana.
Dave Chappelle said he is interested in not only visiting Ghana but buying some properties as well. Who knows, he may also relocate to Ghana in some time to come. He made a video of his visit that has been good promotional material for Ghana. If Ghana is able to attract African-Americans to visit Ghana every December with the mindset of a pilgrimage and investment drive, the economy will be much better.
Our focus must be on working toward attracting two million visitors into Ghana on a yearly basis. This can be achieved if and when the African-American market is well explored and the diaspora is convinced to accept Ghana as their first home and not their second home.
Another Ghanaian-American comedian, Michael Blackson, also commissioned his much-talked-about academy at Agona Nsaba in the Central Region. This is also a great opportunity for inviting developmental projects into our communities. Beyond their visiting tourist-sites, encouraging visiting diasporans to develop our communities will be great drive for the year 2023.
Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd., a Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at www.forealdestinations.com or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visist our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations.