The numbers alone cannot capture the scale of the losses that have increased as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Datasets are crude tools for probing the depth of human suffering or the immensity of our collective grief.
But the numbers can help us understand the scale of some losses – especially in the travel industry, which experienced a dizzying collapse in 2020.
Worldwide, international arrivals are estimated to have fallen to 381 million in 2020, from 1.461 billion in 2019, a decline of 74%. In countries whose economies are heavily dependent on tourism, the sharp drop in visitor numbers has been and remains devastating.
According to recent figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the decline in international travel in 2020 resulted in an estimated loss of $ 1.3 trillion in global export earnings. As the agency notes, that figure is more than 11 times the loss that occurred in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.
The following charts – which deal with developments in international arrivals, emissions, air travel, the cruise industry and road trips – provide a broad overview of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the travel industry. and beyond.
Before the pandemic, tourism represented one in 10 jobs worldwide. In many places, however, travel plays an even bigger role in the local economy.
Take the example of the Maldives, where in recent years international tourism has accounted for around two-thirds of the country’s GDP, including direct and indirect contributions.
As lockdowns took hold around the world, international arrivals to the Maldives plunged; from April to September 2020, they decreased by 97% compared to the same period in 2019. Throughout 2020, arrivals decreased by more than 67% compared to 2019. (The number of arrivals s’ is slowly improving after the country reopened in July; the government, eager to promote tourism and mitigate losses, lured travelers with marketing campaigns and even wooed influencers with paid junkets.)
Similar developments have occurred in places like Macau, Aruba and the Bahamas: closings in February and March, followed by gradual increases later in the year.
The economic impact of the travel-related declines has been staggering. In Macau, for example, GDP contracted by more than 50% in 2020.
And the effects could be long lasting; in some areas, travel is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
The pandemic has disrupted commercial aviation. One way to visualize the effect of lockdowns on air travel is to consider the number of passengers screened daily at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
Traveler checks plunged in March before reaching a low point on April 14, when 87,534 passengers were screened – a drop of 96% from the same date in 2019.
The numbers have grown relatively steadily since then, although today the screening numbers are still less than half of what they were a year earlier.
According to the International Air Transport Association, an air trade group, global passenger traffic in 2020 fell 65.9% from 2019, the largest year-over-year decline in history. aviation.
Another way to visualize the drop in air travel last year is to consider the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by planes around the world.
According to figures from Carbon Monitor, an international initiative that provides estimates of daily CO2 emissions, global aviation emissions fell nearly 50% last year – to around 500 million metric tonnes of CO2, compared to approximately 1 billion metric tonnes in 2019. (Those numbers are expected to rebound, although the timing will largely depend on how long business and international travel sits on the sidelines.)
In total, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels fell 2.6 billion metric tonnes in 2020, a 7% reduction from 2019, largely due to the decline in transportation.
Few industries played a central and public role in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic as major cruise lines did – starting with the outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess.
In a scathing industry rebuke released in July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blamed cruise lines for widespread transmission of the virus, pointing to 99 outbreaks aboard 123 cruise ships in U.S. waters alone.
While precise passenger data for 2020 is not yet available, the publicly disclosed revenues – which include ticket sales and onboard purchases – from three of the largest cruise lines offer a dramatic tale: solid revenues in the first months of 2020, followed by a sharp drop. .
Third-quarter revenue for Carnival Corporation, the industry’s largest player, was down 99.5% year-over-year – to $ 31 million in 2020, from $ 6.5 billion. dollars in 2019.
The outlook remains bleak for the first months of 2021: so far, most cruise lines have canceled all crossings in May or June.
Air travel, both international and domestic, has been drastically reduced by the pandemic. But how has car travel been affected?
One way to measure the change is to look at the Daily Travel Index compiled by Arrivalist, a company that uses mobile location data to measure the travel of consumers 50 miles or more in all 50 U.S. states.
The numbers tell the story of a slightly stronger rebound than in air travel: a sharp drop in March and April, with state and local restrictions in place, followed by a gradual increase to around 80% of 2019 levels.
Another way to look at road travel in 2020 – and domestic travel in the United States more broadly – is to look at the number of visits to U.S. national parks.
Overall, visitation to national parks declined by 28% in 2020 – to 237 million visitors, from 327.5 million in 2019, largely due to temporary park closures and capacity restrictions related to the pandemic.
The caveat, however, is that several parks saw record numbers of visitors in the second half of the year, as a wave of travel-hungry tourists began to seek safe and responsible forms of recreation.
Consider the figures for recreational visits to Yellowstone National Park. After a closure in April, monthly park attendance quickly surpassed 2019 levels. September and October 2020 were both the busiest months on record, with numbers in October surpassing the previous monthly high of 43%.
Some national parks located near cities have served as convenient recreational escapes throughout the pandemic. At Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2020 numbers topped 2019 numbers from March through December. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, numbers increased after a 46-day spring shutdown and partial closures through August; between June and December, the park recorded a million more visits compared to the same period in 2019.