The report, jointly presented with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), says international tourism and its closely linked sectors suffered an estimated loss of $2.4 trillion in 2020 due to direct and indirect impacts of a steep drop in international tourist arrivals.
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," UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said in a press release on Wednesday.
With covid-19 vaccinations being more pronounced in some countries than others, the report says, tourism losses are reduced in most developed countries but worsened in developing countries.
Covid-19 vaccination rates are uneven across countries, ranging from below 1% of the population in some countries to above 60% in others.
According to the report, the asymmetric roll-out of vaccines magnifies the economic blow tourism has suffered in developing countries, as they could account for up to 60% of the global GDP losses.
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.
A rebound in international tourism is expected in the second half of this year, but the UNCTAD report still shows a loss of between $1.7 trillion and $2.4 trillion in 2021, compared with 2019 levels.
The results are based on simulations that capture the effects of international tourism reduction only, not policies such as economic stimulus programmes that may soften the pandemic’s impact on the sector.