The world’s tourism sector could lose at least $1.2 trillion, or 1.5% of the global gross domestic product (GDP), having been placed at a standstill for nearly four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, UNCTAD said in a report published on 1 July.

Major tourist destinations such as Thailand, France and Germany stand to lose approximately US$47 billion each in GDP due to the contraction in tourism.

The UN’s trade and development body warned that the loss could rise to $2.2 trillion or 2.8% of the world’s GDP if the break in international tourism lasts for eight months, in line with the expected decline in tourism as projected by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

UNCTAD estimates losses in the most pessimistic scenario, a 12-month break in international tourism, at $3.3 trillion or 4.2% of global GDP.

“These numbers are a clear reminder of something we often seem to forget: the economic importance of the sector and its role as a lifeline for millions of people all around the world.”

UNCTAD’s director of international trade, Pamela Coke-Hamilton.
Changes in GDP: 15 most affected countries, moderate scenario
Changes in GDP: 15 most affected countries, moderate scenario

Developing countries could suffer the steepest GDP losses. Jamaica and Thailand stand out, losing 11% and 9% of GDP respectively in the most optimistic scenario of UNCTAD’s estimates. Other tourism hotspots such as Kenya, Egypt and Malaysia could lose over 3% of their GDP.

Impact on other sectors, jobs and wages

UNCTAD estimates show that in the worst-affected countries, such as Thailand, Jamaica and Croatia, employment for unskilled workers could decrease at double-digit rates even in the most moderate scenario.

In the case of wages for skilled workers, the steepest drops could be seen in Thailand (-12%), Jamaica (-11%) and Croatia (-9%), in the optimistic case, doubling or tripling in the worst scenario.

Travel and tourism account for a significant share of global GDP and more than half of many countries’ national income.

Coronavirus-induced losses in tourism have a knock-on effect on other economic sectors that supply the goods and services travellers seek while on vacation, such as food, beverages and entertainment.

UNCTAD therefore estimates that for every $1 million lost in international tourism revenue, a country’s national income could decline by $2 million to $3 million.

The massive fall in tourist arrivals has also left a growing number of skilled and unskilled workers unemployed or with less income.

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