The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported that international tourism is returning to pre-pandemic levels, with first quarter travel in 2023 doubling over the levels of the same period in the previous year.

According to the latest available data, 235 million tourists traveled internationally over the first three months of the year, which brought the numbers up to 80% of the levels seen prior to the pandemic.

The UNWTO noted that the tourism sector has proven highly resilient, as 960 million people traveled abroad last year, which marked a return to 66% of the pre-pandemic levels.

The strongest recovery was seen in the Middle East, which was the only region which exceeded the level of arrivals seen in 2019 (+15%). The Middle East was also the first region to recover to pre-pandemic levels for a full quarter. Strong intra-regional demand drove Europe back to 90% of its pre-pandemic numbers, while Africa and the Americas reached 88% and 85% of the levels seen prior to the pandemic, respectively.

Asia and the Pacific reached 54% of their pre-pandemic levels, according to the report, which added that the trend to recovery would accelerate, now that most destinations, and most notably China, had reopened following the pandemic.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “The start of the year has shown again tourism’s unique ability to bounce back. In many places, we are close to or even above pre-pandemic levels of arrivals.”

He added, “However, we must remain alert to challenges ranging from geopolitical insecurity, staffing shortages, and the potential impact of the cost-of-living crisis on tourism, and we must ensure tourism’s return delivers on its responsibilities as a solution to the climate emergency and as a driver of inclusive development.”

The UN agency also noted that globally, international tourism receipts had reached the $1 trillion level in 2022, increasing 50% in real terms compared to 2021 due to the rebound in international travel. It also noted that global visitor spending had returned to 64% of pre-pandemic levels.

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