The number of tourists arriving at airports from international travel is expected to drop sharply this year due to the deadly coronavirus, said the World Tourism Organization on Friday, reversing an earlier forecast for substantial growth, reports Yahoo! News.
UN projects 3% drop due to coronavirus
The United Nations office in Madrid said in a statement that international arrivals were now projected to drop by 1.0-3.0% in 2020, instead of the increase of 3.0-4.0% previously forecast in January of this year.
If this happens, it will be the first yearly decline in the total number of international tourists arriving at global airports since 2009 when the economic crisis took its toll on the travel and tourism sector.
Tourism in Asia and Pacific greatest hit
"The first assessment expects that Asia and the Pacific will be the worst affected region, with an anticipated fall in arrivals of 9.0 percent to 12.0 percent," said the statement.
"Estimates for other world regions are currently premature in view of the rapidly evolving situation," the statement added.
Additionally, the UN body said flight cancellations and travel restrictions had "significantly diminished the supply of travel services while demand continues to retract."
The UN body advised governments against issuing travel restrictions to countries where outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are happening and suggested "financial and political support for recovery measures aimed at tourism."
"Small and medium-sized enterprises make up around 80 percent of the tourism sector and are particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, including within vulnerable communities, relying on tourism," said Zurab Pololikashvili, the body's secretary-general.
In 2019, international tourism arrivals grew by 4.0%, to 1.5 billion. France was the most-visited country, with Spain and the United States trailing behind. Together, they generated roughly $1.5 trillion in international travel receipts.
Lack of Chinese tourism will hurt US, Thailand, Japan
China is the world's biggest source market for international tourists but has issued heavy quarantines and travel restrictions to contain large populations and curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Tourists from China comprised more than one-quarter of all international arrivals in Japan and Thailand in 2019, and were roughly 4% of all arrivals in the U.S., added the UN.
Roughly 10% of the world's employment is in service to travel and tourism, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, a leading industry association, reports Yahoo! News.
Leisure comprises nearly 80% of that total, in contrast to 20% represented by business travel.
Business travelers usually close the gap created by drops in the travel industry throughout winter months, but many are electing to stay home as major companies suspend employee travel globally for the coming weeks.
The UN World Trade Organization also said that the travel sector also experienced a sharp decline in 2003 during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused 774 deaths globally. But, the UN added, the industry later saw a "strong and rapid recovery in the following years." Presumably, the same could happen after the deadly coronavirus outbreak comes to a close.