Covid-19 wiped almost €4tn from global travel and tourism in 2020

Sector’s contribution to world economy almost halved after pandemic stopped travel

The devastating impact of Covid-19 on Ireland’s hospitality sector has been mirrored across the world, with almost €4 trillion lost in 2020 as a direct result of the pandemic, according to research published today.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual Economic Impact Report says global travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP almost halved, falling by €3.8 trillion, or 49 per cent, last year, compared with a decline in the broader economy of 3.7 per cent.

The report also finds that global spending on international travel fell by 69.4 per cent in 2020 compared with the previous year. Global spending on domestic travel fell by 45 per cent, as some internal travel was permitted in 2020.

The vast losses paint the first full picture of a sector struggling to survive in the face of what the report calls crippling travel restrictions and unnecessary quarantines that continue to threaten the urgent recovery of the world economy.


Overall, travel and tourism made up 5.5 per cent of global GDP in 2020, compared with 10.4 per cent in 2019. In 2019, when international travel was thriving – and generating one in four of all new jobs around the world, according to the council – the sector contributed 334 million jobs globally. Last year, as the pandemic laid waste to the sector, more than 62 million jobs were lost, a drop of 18.5 per cent. Small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up 80 per cent of all travel and tourism businesses, were particularly affected.

The research also suggests that the impact on women, youth and minorities was significant.

The World Travel & Tourism Council has acknowledged the role played by governments, including Ireland’s, in helping the sector. “However,” the report says, “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 and creating much-needed new jobs and saving the millions of livelihoods that depend on the sector.”

The council's president and chief executive, Gloria Guevara Manzo, says it is important to "praise the prompt action of governments around the world for saving so many jobs and livelihoods at risk... However, WTTC's annual Economic Impact Report shows the full extent of the pain our sector has had to endure over the past 12 months, which has needlessly devastated so many lives and businesses, large and small."

The organisation believes that if international travel can restart by June this year it will significantly boost global and country-level GDPs. Its research suggests that travel and tourism’s contribution to global GDP could rise by 48.5 per cent year-on-year, almost reaching its prepandemic level by 2022.

The World Travel & Tourism Council also 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 in the sector lost in 2020 could return by next year.

It has called on governments to follow its four principles of recovery: a comprehensive co-ordinated international testing regime upon departure for all nonvaccinated travellers, to eliminate quarantines; enhanced health and hygiene protocols and mandatory mask wearing; a shift to individual traveller risk assessments instead of country risk assessments; and continued support for the sector, including fiscal, liquidity and worker-protection assistance. The council says the introduction of digital health passes will also support the sector’s recovery.