Visualizing the Negative Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Tourism

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread revenue loss for lots of different industries, but none more so than the tourism sector. We focused on the highest tourism countries to visualize the negative impact of COVID-19 on a year-over-year basis. The economic losses are staggering.

  • Spain had the single biggest drop in tourism spending due to COVID-19 from 2019 to 2020 when measured as a percentage of the total, decreasing from $79.7B to $16.2B or -80%.
  • The U.S. witnessed the single biggest overall decrease, going from $193.3B to $63B, or about -67%.
  • Every country in our visual experienced massive losses in tourism spending, with most countries suffering through drops of over 50%.
  • Travel bans are still in place for lots of countries around the world, which suggests it will take a long time for the tourism industry to recover to pre-pandemic revenue levels.

We found financial figures for tourism loss broken out by country from a report at the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). We plotted 2019 and 2020 total spending figures, illustrating the gap between the two for each country. We added a color-coded circle to represent the size of the loss as a percentage of revenue, allowing you to quickly and easily see which countries have had the hardest time due to COVID-19 restrictions and the decrease in tourism.

Our visualization reveals the extensive economic damage COVID-19 has wrought on the tourism industry. Every country in our visual saw well over 40% decreases in tourism spending. Australia was off -44%, Germany was down -45% and France declined -49%. And those are the best case scenarios. The situation was far more severe in lots of other places. In the worst case, Spain saw tourism plummet from $79.7B in 2019 to $16.2B last year, or a decline of about -80%. Thailand likewise went from $59.7B to $12.9B, dropping -78%. And tourism in Japan similarly fell an incredible -77%, going from $46.1B to $10.8B.

It may not come as a surprise to hear the U.S. experienced the biggest overall drop in tourism spending from 2019 to 2020, decreasing from $193.3B to only $63B. That still places the U.S. as the top destination for tourism dollars in our visual, but it represents serious economic damage for thousands of businesses and their employees. To put that in perspective, the U.S. still saw as much tourism spending in 2020 as did France before the pandemic ($63.8B).

There are a few different reasons for the widespread drop in tourism. Beyond the fear of contracting and spreading COVID-19, a lot of countries went on lockdown at different points in 2020, barring both foreigners from traveling into and locals from traveling within countries. France still has some domestic travel limitations as of this writing. The EU is just now considering lifting a travel ban on fully vaccinated Americans. The U.S. for its part still maintains travel bans on several countries, including ones with widespread COVID-19 variants like Brazil and South Africa. This suggests it could take a long time before the tourism sector gets back to normal.

When do you think global tourism will fully recover to pre-pandemic levels? Do you plan to travel during the summer of 2021? Let us know in the comments.

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The Mediterranean Observer is a news portal dedicated to travel tourism, and hospitality in the Mediterranean region. This portal is managed by the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation, based in the Mediterranean country of Malta.