Tourism industry statistics for 2020 and beyond

travel industry statistics

This time last year we were filled with excitement and optimism about the amazing tourism opportunities and growth that the new decade would bring. In fact our 2019 Travel Industry Statistics blog signed off with the sentiment “as you can see, there’s certainly plenty happening in this exhilarating and dynamic industry, and that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon!” While it is obvious that 2020 has thrown many a curveball and temporarily starved the tourism industry of this potential boom, there is undoubtedly still a lot of movement and talk around travel going on that tour operators, travel agents, DMO’s and DMCs should be across.

We know the bleak travel statistics that have emerged in the past few months have been hanging over the future of the industry like a large black cloud and in all honesty, no-one can guarantee what travel going forward will look or feel like. It can be all too easy to focus on the negatives, but if we know one thing it’s that if you spend too much time looking at the storm, you might miss the sunshine. Whether it be a natural disaster, political arrest or a global pandemic, the passionate, hard-working and talented people that wholeheartedly live and breathe tourism, will once again create memorable travel experiences for those struck by wanderlust.

Our aim with this blog is to be entirely realistic about the current state of the tourism industry, but to also offer hope that the coming years will see an injection of confidence into the tourism industry – it just may be in a way that we had never before envisaged, and at a slower pace than many thought out the outset of COVID-19.

Our four different sections will explore …

  1. Sector Overview: Understand the areas within the tourism industry that are likely to gain the greatest popularity from 2021 and beyond, and conversely the segments which are more likely to struggle to thrive.
  2. Traveller Demographics and Trends: The people that are choosing to travel, and the way in which they participate in travel, has slowly evolved. This section looks to highlight these changes and how tour operators can best cater to them.
  3. Travel and Technology: Technology is a part of everyday life and will undoubtedly help the tourism industry bounce back from the pandemic. Learn what trends will take the industry by storm in the next few years.
  4. Ecotourism: The time is now to take action to positively impact carbon emissions, climate change, sustainable travel and ecotourism.

Sector Overview

The below statistics truly demonstrate the harsh impact that COVID-19 has had on the tourism industry.

  • Global tourism expenditure may be up to $8.1 trillion lower than predictions following the implication of COVID-19 (McKinsey & Company, 2020).
  • Dropping by 65%, international tourist arrivals took a hit in the first half of 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions were enforced around the world. Experts are predicting that it could be 2024 before international travel returns to 2019 levels (UNWTO, 2020; Yahoo! Finance, 2020).
  • That being said, there is a large majority of people across the world that can see the return of international travel within short reach. Hopes have been so high that 65% of Amercians that have booked trips for the coming year have done so for international, rather than domestic, destinations (Forbes, 2020).
  • The greatest confidence for a quicker return to international travel lies within the tourism expert community of the Middle East. With 83% of experts believing that the start of 2021 will see international travel return, this trumps the 63% of experts in the Asia and Pacific regions who have set their sights on the latter half of 2021 for this activity (UNWTO, 2020).
  • A resurgence in domestic travel and ‘staycations’ is expected to be the saving grace for the entire industry. Recovery for the industry in a post COVID-19 world will come from locals wanting to explore and spend money in their own country. The love local movement is expected to strongly grow next year, and is anticipated to recover 1-2 years earlier than outbound travel (UNWTO, 2020; McKinsey & Company, 2020).
  • With the pause of travel came an unprecedented amount of job losses within the global tourism sector. It is predicted that 100.8 million jobs have been lost in 2019. Governments around the world are doing their best to provide job retention programmes and assistance to keep workers employed (Statista, 2020; OECD, 2020).
  • Foreign Direct Investment is expected to drop by up to 30% across 2020 and 2021 with the tourism industry being the hardest hit sector (United Nations, 2020).

traveller trends

Each year the characteristics, preferences and personas of travellers shifts slightly to match the evolving nature of the travel industry, environment and society. The predicament of a pandemic has simply flipped this on it’s head and caused individuals to jump between, or create, demographic segments like we have never seen before.

  • It has been noted that the ‘wait-and-see X and Y generation’ of travellers hold the most weight and resilience when it comes to air travel in the short term future (20.4% of travellers). Falling within the 35-54 year old age range, these individuals will look to travel in the next month or two, but the presence of higher safety standards will put their minds at ease (International Air Transport Association, 2020).
  • The demographic coined ‘the late leisure traveller’ are the most likely not to resume travel for the foreseeable future. With concerns of contracting COVID-19, this group of 18-54 years will likely wait at least 6 months to travel again (International Air Transport Association, 2020).
  • The importance of travel may be shifting among younger generations as tourism is viewed as a luxury expense. For businesses this poses the challenge of how to get younger people travelling (Skift, 2020).
  • A great positive to come out of COVID-19 is the complete rethink of work life balance and office set-ups. From 2021 and beyond we will see more and more people become “remote workers” and tack on a stint of long distance working to their holidays. This also lends itself nicely to off-season travel, smoothing out seasonality issues for the industry (The Guardian, 2020; Barrons, 2020).
  • Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) is a niche market that will return with power as international and domestic travel returns. This type of travel is seen to be safer as tourists can reduce their interactions with others and stay with family or friends (Skift, 2020).
  • Unsurprisingly, travellers will demand a more private way of travel instead of the once heavily popular mass tourism. This not only helps to maintain people’s ‘bubbles’ and hygiene levels but is also a shift towards higher quality tourism products rather than quantity. Likely to lead to a boost in the luxury travel market, this trend also aligns with the decline in popularity of group travel. For example, the Chinese market’s willingness to participate in group guided tours has declined by 18% since the global outbreak (Haus Von Eden, 2020, Web in Travel, 2020).
  • Trip flexibility and free cancellation are almost an expected part of a company’s booking terms and conditions going forward. Uncertainty over travel from COVID-19 means that travellers will be more likely to book directly with businesses to guarantee this flexibility (Conde Naste Traveler, 2020).
  • Spontaneous travel will be no longer as people err on the side of caution and pre-plan all elements of their trip (Travel Professional News, 2020).
  • Activities that are human powered such as hiking, biking and walking are set to spike in popularity as people crave outdoor adventure following lockdown and working from home. To add to this, outdoor activities are seen to be less risk averse to the spread of COVID-19 (Intrepid Travel, 2020).

tourism technology

As technology becomes increasingly ingrained in daily life, tourism is no exception to the rule. It is safe to say that technological innovations will strongly assist the rebound of the industry and give added assurance to travellers that activities and locations are safe.

  • Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between tourism decision making during the pandemic and increased social media searches. Social platforms will become increasingly important in mitigating risk perceptions that are associated with travelling in a COVID-19 world (Emerald, 2020).
  • Experts are claiming that digital advertising budgets will increase by up to 78% in 2021 as businesses try to best communicate to consumers (Media Post, 2020).
  • Video content on social media attracts the highest level of engagement. 82% of online content will be in video format by 2022 (Influencer Marketing Hub, 2020).
  • Artificial intelligence is continually evolving to allow tourism businesses to improve the experiences that their customers have digitally (IT Brief, 2020).
  • It is predicted that 123 million people will use voice assistants in daily life by the end of next year. Perfect for use in the tourism industry, for quick searches and language translation, voice powered travel is set to revolutionise travel (Medium, 2020).
  • Building on the idea of contactless interactions from voice assistant technology, payment methods, check-in functions, and touch buttons will become increasingly automated and digitised to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (Skift, 2020).
  • Google’s new search engine features give travellers the most up to date COVID-19 information for a particular destination to keep them across restrictions and infection rates (Forbes, 2020).
  • Promotion for tourism activities and destinations has been gamified with sales for virtual reality headsets expected to grow by 53% by 2024. This gives the opportunity for tour operators to truly showcase their offering to tourists, taking them on a tour, to boost sales (Phocus Wire, 2020; Channel Life, 2020).


The concept of sustainable or eco-tourism has never been a more pressing issue. The pandemic has forced travellers and tour operators alike to reflect on the impact that tourism has on the environment. Tourism holds immense power in the way that natural, cultural and environmental resources are preserved, viewed and kept for future generations.

  • Approximately 72% of global travellers see sustainable tourism choices as a priority. Sustainable transport options such as walking, biking and hiking are considered a great option by 52% of these people (, 2020).
  • Travellers are keen to engage in activities with purpose. Whether it be contributing to conservation efforts or spending more with the local community, tourists are wanting to reduce their footprint and travel with a sustainable mindset (Barrons, 2020).
  • ‘Responsible tourism’ is a buzzword among the traveller community that will resonate with them when making tourism decisions (United Nations, 2020).
  • Nations move towards sustainable, carbon neutral and resource efficient practises following the principles of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2020).
  • Although partly due to international travel restrictions, air travel is on the decline as travellers also consider the impact of this on the environment. Tour operators need to consider how they can place heavier focus on land based travel and environmentally friendly alternatives (CNBC, 2020).
  • Satellite images show that carbon dioxide emissions in particular regions dramatically reduced during quarantine/lockdown periods. It is a challenge for the tourism industry to consider how to keep these low and work on slowing climate change. For example, China’s levels reduced by 25% from January to February (BBC, 2020).
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