Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a policy briefing and video address that tourism is the third-largest export sector of the global economy, behind fuels and chemicals, and in 2019 it accounted for 7 per cent of global trade.
“It employs one in every 10 people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more,” he said.
In addition to boosting economies, “it allows people to experience some of the world’s cultural and natural riches and brings people closer to each other, highlighting our common humanity,” he said.
But the UN chief said that in the first five months of 2020, because of the pandemic, international tourist arrivals decreased by more than half and earnings plummeted.
Guterres said this has been a “major shock” for richer developed nations “but for developing countries, it is an emergency, particularly for many small island developing states and African countries.”
Tourism for some of those countries represents more than 20% of their GDP, he explained.
Sandra Carvao, the UN World Tourism Organisation’s chief of market intelligence and competitiveness, said the USD 320 billion in lost exports from January through May is three times what was lost during the year 2009 at the height of the last global financial crisis.
And according to the policy briefing, “export revenues from tourism could fall by USD 910 billion to USD 1.2 trillion in 2020” and that “could reduce global GDP by 1.5 per cent to 2.8 per cent.”
In addition to tourism jobs that are at risk, the policy paper said jobs in associated sectors, including food service, that provide employment for 144 million workers worldwide are also at risk.