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International arrivals to Middle East hit 77% of pre-pandemic levels as tourism sector rebounds

RIYADH: Tourism in the Middle East continued its post-COVID-19 fightback in the first nine months of 2022 with the number of international arrivals reaching 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels, according to a report by the UN.

The analysis by the body’s World Tourism Organization, known as UNWTO, showed the global tourism sector is on track to reach 65 percent of pre-pandemic levels of international visitors by the end of the year. 

The UNWTO further noted that around 700 million passengers traveled internationally in the first nine months of this year, more than double the number for the same period last year. 

The 700 million figure also represents 63 percent of 2019 levels, signaling robust growth of the tourism sector, as the scare posed by the pandemic faded away this year. 

According to the report, around 340 million passengers traveled internationally in the third quarter of 2022, and international arrivals in the Middle East actually surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 3 percent in September. 

“Results were boosted by strong pent-up demand, improved confidence levels and the lifting of restrictions in an increasing number of destinations,” said UNWTO in the report. 

The report added that export revenues from tourism could reach $1.2 to $1.3 trillion in 2022, a 60-70 percent increase over 2021, or 70-80 percent of the $1.8 trillion recorded in 2019. 

According to the report, Europe is leading from the front as the tourism sector thrives to achieve pre-pandemic levels of international visitors. 

The report noted that Europe welcomed 477 million international arrivals in the January-September period, which equates to 68 percent of the global figures. 

“Europe saw particularly robust performance in Q3, when arrivals reached almost 90 percent of 2019 levels,” UNWTO said.

Africa and the Americas also recorded strong growth compared with 2021, reaching 63 percent and 66 percent of 2019 levels, respectively. 

UNWTO further pointed out that China, a key market in the Asian region, remains largely closed due to strict COVID-19-related restrictions. 

Some of the destinations that surpassed the pre-pandemic levels of international arrivals in the first nine months were Albania, Ethiopia, Honduras, Andorra, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, El Salvador and Iceland. 

“The recovery can also be seen in outbound tourism spending from major source markets, with strong results from France where expenditure reached -8 percent through September, compared to 2019,” added the report. 

The report further said that some of the markets where outbound spending increased include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the US, and India. 

UNWTO, however, warned that the challenging economic environment, including persistently high inflation and soaring energy prices, aggravated by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, could weigh on the pace of recovery in the fourth quarter and into 2023.