In 2023, the travel and tourism industry is forecast to reach a value of $9.5trn, just 5% below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, when the sector was at its highest ever, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) 2023 Economic Impact Research (EIR).

In fact, 34 countries have already exceeded their 2019 levels, while the WTTC forecasts that the sector will recover to 95% of its 2019 job levels.

“The travel and tourism sector continues to recover at pace, demonstrating the resilience of the sector and the enduring desire to travel,” said Julia Simpson, the WTTC’s president and CEO.

A look back on 2022

In 2022, despite economic and geopolitical difficulties, the travel and tourism sector’s recovery continued at pace, growing 22% year on year to reach $7.7tn.

This recovery represented 7.6% of the global economy in 2022, its highest sector contribution since 2019, although its global GDP is still 22.9% behind its 2019 peak.

In 2021, the global travel and tourism sector grew 24.7% year on year, and last year it grew a further 22% to reach a GDP contribution of $7.7tn.

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The research shows that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and prolonged travel restrictions imposed by a number of countries such as China had a significant impact on the global recovery. However, the recent decision by the Chinese government to reopen its borders from January will boost the sector and should see it recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.

From a pre-pandemic high of more than 334 million, Covid-19 ravaged employment in the travel and tourism sector, which saw losses of more than 70 million jobs to bring the total number employed in 2020 to just 264 million.

Following the recovery of 11 million jobs in 2021, the sector created 21.6 million new jobs in 2022 to reach more than 295 million globally – one in 11 jobs worldwide.

Spending by overseas visitors grew by a record 82% to reach $1.1trn in 2022, showing that international travel is firmly back on track.

“By the end of 2023, the sector’s contribution will be within touching distance of the 2019 peak,” said Simpson. “The recovery will speed up this year as Chinese travellers re-enter the market. Travel and tourism will provide 300 million jobs worldwide.”

The WTTC expects 2024 to exceed 2019, and for travel and tourism to be a growth sector over the next ten years.

What does the next decade look like?

The WTTC is forecasting that the travel and tourism sector will grow its GDP contribution to $15.5trn by 2033, representing 11.6% of the global economy. By this point it will employ 430 million people around the world, with almost 12% of the working population employed in the sector.

The WTTC forecasts that by the end of 2023, nearly half of the 185 countries in the report will have either fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels or be within 95% of full recovery.