The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has released the findings of its latest “Economic Trends 2022” report, which revealed that the U.S. remains the world’s biggest and most powerful travel and tourism market.

Its top ranking, WTTC says, was reaffirmed despite suffering long and damaging travel restrictions that did little to halt the spread of COVID-19 and only resulted in heavy economic losses. That said, while it retained its top position, the U.S. travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy fell by $700 billion in 2019, to just below $1.3 trillion last year.

In fact, research by Oxford Economics for WTTC shows there has been no change in the top three countries—with China second and Germany third. But the rankings are illusionary as the top economies bolstered their numbers through domestic travel, while international visitor numbers plummeted. In the U.S., international traveler spend rankings saw it toppled from its pre-pandemic top position.

But despite the challenges of the past two years, the new report from the global tourism body shows business travel is on the road to recovery.

Julia Simpson, WTTC president & CEO, said: “Our report shows the resilience of the travel and tourism sector, despite the impact of travel restrictions around the world which failed to halt the spread of the virus. Despite a challenging macro environment, travel and tourism has bounced back. The world, with some exceptions, is traveling again. And we are seeing a resurgence in business travel. Over the next 10 years, travel and tourism growth will outstrip the global economy.”

WTTC’s data reveals that in terms of the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP, China held onto its second position, with more than $814 billion, while Germany remained the third biggest travel and tourism sector in the world, contributing $251 billion to the German economy.

The U.K. slipped from fifth place in 2019 to ninth in 2021, with a contribution of just over $157 billion, the biggest faller of the top 10 countries.

In terms of international traveler spend, France—which was in fourth place before the pandemic struck—overtook Spain, China and the U.S. to grab first place. China, which remains closed to much of the rest of the world, was in second place prior to the pandemic, but fell dramatically to 11th position in 2021.

Across Asia Pacific, major travel and tourism markets such as Thailand and Japan saw huge losses in international spending, which resulted in both markets—in fifth and eighth place, respectively, before the pandemic—falling out of the top 20 altogether in 2021.

WTTC forecasts worldwide business travel is likely to grow more than 41 percent this year. For the next 10 years, it predicts business travel could grow an average of 5.5 percent annually and may return faster in the Asia Pacific region. Further, WTTC predicts by 2032, China could overtake the U.S. to become the world’s biggest travel and tourism market. The study shows China’s travel and tourism sector’s contribution to GDP could reach $3.9 trillion by 2032, making it the world’s most powerful travel and tourism market, and India could leapfrog Germany to reach third place with a projected value of $457 billion.

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