Global tourism could recover to pre-pandemic levels only by 2024: Experts

People at a pier in Santa Monica, California, on May 29, 2021. Countries with a sizeable domestic travel market are expected to see a rebound in tourism levels earlier.
People at a pier in Santa Monica, California, on May 29, 2021. Countries with a sizeable domestic travel market are expected to see a rebound in tourism levels earlier. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Global tourism could recover to pre-pandemic levels only by 2024, with some countries expected to recover faster than others.

Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company made this prediction based on various global tourism recovery scenarios which examine the impact of virus containment, as well as the economic and policy responses of the 10 countries with the biggest outbound tourism markets.

Global business leaders have agreed that the most likely scenario involves recovery to 2019 levels by 2024.

On Thursday (June 3), Ms Diaan-Yi Lin, a senior partner at McKinsey, said the 2024 prediction comes with certain assumptions.

"What we have seen is continued pockets of virus resurgence. Therefore, mobility restrictions are quite extensive, whether it is social distancing or lockdowns... and we do expect some lasting changes in travel behaviour," said Ms Lin at the Asia-Pacific Council for Hotels, Restaurants and Institutional Educators virtual conference, which was organised by hospitality school Shatec.

According to McKinsey, annual tourism expenditure in the 10 countries with the biggest outbound tourism markets was US$4 trillion (S$5.3 trillion) in 2019.

An 8 per cent increase from pre-pandemic levels to US$4.3 trillion is expected in 2024.

Leisure travel is expected to fully recover due to factors such as vaccinations, said Ms Lin, adding that as much as 20 per cent of the business travel segment may not recover.

She explained: "I think this pandemic has forced every business to use technology and realise that working remotely is possible... We expect many of those working practices to stick."

Countries with a sizeable domestic travel market are also expected to see rebound in tourism levels earlier.

For example, China could see recovery in its domestic market as early as 2022, followed by Japan and Germany in 2023.

In China and Japan, recovery is driven by a fast and effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while in Germany, it is attributed to its strong healthcare system and economy.