WTTC: Industry Lost $4.5 Trillion in 2020 Due to Impact of COVID-19

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) annual Economic Impact Report (EIR) has revealed the full, devastating impact that COVID-19 had on the global travel and tourism sector in 2020, which suffered a loss of nearly $4.5 trillion.

The EIR shows the sector’s contribution to GDP dropped a staggering 49.1 percent (the overall global economy dropped by only 3.7 percent last year).

The deficit brought on by the pandemic in 2020, paints the first full picture of a sector struggling to survive in the face of continued travel restrictions and unnecessary quarantines, according to the WTTC, which continue to threaten the urgent recovery of the world economy.

Altogether, travel and tourism’s contribution to global GDP plummeted to $4.7 trillion in 2020 (5.5 percent of the global economy), from nearly $9.2 trillion the previous year (10.4 percent).

The global travel and tourism industry thrived in 2019, generating one in four of all new jobs around the world, contributing a total of 10.6 percent (334 million) jobs globally. 

Last year, however, as the pandemic ripped through the heart of travel and tourism, more than 62 million jobs were lost, representing a drop of 18.5 percent, leaving just 272 million employed across the industry globally. 

These jobs losses were felt across the entire ecosystem of travel and tourism, with SMEs, which make up 80 percent of all businesses in the sector, particularly affected. Furthermore, as one of the world’s most diverse sectors, the impact on women, youth and minorities was significant. 

In addition, the WTTC says, the threat persists as many of these jobs are currently supported by government retention plans and reduced hours, which without a full recovery of travel and tourism, could be lost altogether.  

WTTC adds that it has praised governments around the world for their prompt response to support the industry; however, the global tourism body fears governments cannot continue to prop up threatened jobs indefinitely and must instead turn to the sector to help its recovery, so it can power the global economic revival by saving businesses, creating new jobs and saving the millions of livelihoods that depend on the sector.

The report also reveals a shocking loss in international travel spending, which was down 69.4 percent on the previous year. 

Domestic travel spending fell by 45 percent, a lower decline due to some internal travel in a number of countries.

The Route to Recovery

While 2020 and the winter of 2021 have been dismal for travel and tourism, WTTC research shows that if international mobility and travel is resumed by June this year, it will significantly boost global and country level GDPs—and jobs. 

According to the research, the sector’s contribution to global GDP could rise sharply in 2021, up 48.5 percent year-on-year. WTTC studies have also shown that its contribution could almost reach the same levels of 2019 in 2022, with a further year-on-year rise of 25.3 percent.


WTTC predicts that if the global vaccine rollout continues at pace, and travel restrictions are relaxed just before the busy summer season, the 62 million jobs lost in 2020 could steadily return by 2022.

The global tourism body strongly advocates the resumption of safe international travel starting in June 2021, if governments follow the four principles of recovery, which includes a comprehensive coordinated international testing regime upon departure for all non-vaccinated travelers, to eliminate quarantines.

Additionally: Enhanced health and hygiene protocols and mandatory mask-wearing shifting to individual traveler risk assessments instead of country risk assessments, and continued support for the sector, including fiscal, liquidity and worker protection. 

WTTC is in strong support of the introduction of digital health passes, such as the recently announced Digital Green Certificate, which will assist in the sector’s safe revival.

Visit www.wttc.org.

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