Restaurants closed, flights cancelled, travel banned–2020 will go down as one of the worst years on record for travel and tourism around the world. The new Economic Impact Report (EIR) from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) for 2020 provides the staggering detail behind those headlines, which were playing out around the world last year.
The biggest takeaway? That globally, more than 62 million jobs were lost in the sector in 2020–as a percentage of global GDP, contributions from the travel and tourism sector fell from 10.4% in 2019 to just 5.5.% in 2020.
For the U.S., the world’s largest travel and tourism market, the headlines make for uncomfortable reading:
- In 2020, the sector’s contribution to GDP in the U.S. fell by 41%.
- In 2020, travel and tourism jobs in the U.S. fell by 33.2% with 5.4 million jobs lost.
- U.S. domestic spend was less affected, decreasing by 37.1%.
- But international visitor spend plummeted by 76.7% in 2020 (decreasing from $181.2 billion in 2019, to $42.2 billion in 2020).
- Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 80% of all travel and tourism businesses were significantly impacted.
- And as the travel and tourism sector is one of the world’s most diverse, the impact on women, youth and minorities was significant.
Gloria Guevara, WTTC President & CEO said she was not surprised by the findings. “Travel & Tourism plays a pivotal role in supplying both jobs and financial gains to the overall U.S. economy,” Guevara said. “The industry’s decline due to the pandemic has been felt across the board for families, business owners, and tour operators who rely on a thriving sector for their livelihood.”
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Guevara added that the restart of travel by summer could make a big difference, as it would “create more employment opportunities and empower a resurgence of the country’s economy. Our research shows that if mobility and international travel resumes by summer this year, the sector’s contribution to global travel and tourism GDP could rise sharply in 2021.”
The WTTC applauded the Biden administration’s efforts to restart the U.S. travel and tourism sector through the $14 billion allocated to airlines in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, as well as through its fast-paced vaccination rollout and a “firm stance on mask wearing to prevent further spread.”
The WTTC also insisted that whilst vaccinations will allow travelers to move around safely, it “hopes to see the health organization get behind a more standardized approach to help travel restart safely and seamlessly.” The organization said that “the key to unlocking the sector by this summer, and in turn reviving millions of jobs, lies within a comprehensive testing regime for non-vaccinated travelers, mandatory mask wearing, and enhanced health and hygiene protocols across the board.”