Road to Recovery

Uncertainty remains for tourism even as reopenings gather pace

More and more territories are easing restrictions on travellers, but as the latest UN World Tourism Organization report outlines, recovery remains patchy and the road ahead is uncertain.

While COVID-19 travel restrictions are easing around the world, many countries that rely heavily on visitor revenue have yet to open up, causing further damage to their tourism industries. That’s according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) which revealed this month that by 1 September, 53% of all destinations worldwide had eased the restrictions they placed on international tourism in response to the pandemic. This compared to 40% on 19 July and 22% on 15 June.

The UN agency says that 115 destinations (53%) have eased restrictions, an increase of 28 since 19 July. Of these, two have lifted all restrictions, while the remaining 113 continue to have certain restrictive measures in place.

By region, the number of destinations that have eased travel restrictions are: 44 in Europe, including 25 out of 26 Schengen Member States; 27 in the Americas, including 18 Small Island Developing States (SIDS); 26 in Africa; 13 in Asia and the Pacific, including 5 SIDS; 5 destinations in the Middle East.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili says: “Coordinated leadership and enhanced cooperation between governments means tourism is slowly but steadily restarting in many parts of the world. Starting to ease restrictions on travel opens also the doors for tourism’s social and economic benefits to return.

“While we must remain vigilant and cautious, we are concerned about those destinations with ongoing full travel restrictions, especially where tourism is a lifeline and economic and social development are under threat.”

The report shows that:

  • Within advanced economies, 79% of tourism destinations have already eased restrictions. In emerging economies, just 47% of destinations have done so.
  • 64% of those destinations which have eased have a high or medium dependence on air as a mode of transport for international tourism arrivals.
  • Destinations which have eased travel restrictions generally have high levels of health and hygiene infrastructure. They also tend to have comparatively low COVID-19 infection rates.

Destinations that have eased COVID-19 related travel restrictions as of 1 September 2020

Source: Data compiled by UNWTO as of 1 September 2020

The report notes that many destinations around the world are “extremely cautious” about easing travel restrictions they introduced in response to the pandemic and some have passed severe measures in an attempt to keep their citizens safe.

Some 93 (43% of all destinations) continue to have their borders completely closed to tourism, of which 27 have been closed for at least 30 weeks.

Category of travel restrictions by destinations that have eased COVID-19 related travel restrictions

Source: Data compiled by UNWTO as of 1 September 2020

More than half of all destinations with borders completely closed to tourism are classified as being among the World’s Most Vulnerable Countries. They include ten SIDS (Small Island Developing States), one Least Developed Country (LDC) and three Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs).

More than half of destinations with full restrictions still in place are also highly dependent on aviation, with at least 70% of their tourist arrivals coming by air, causing significant connectivity impacts for their citizens and economies, notes the agency.

Changes in type of travel restrictions over time

Source: Data compiled by UNWTO as of 1 September 2020

The UNWTO warns that, as health concerns and uncertainties prevail, the reintroduction of restrictions remains possible. Since reporting last on 19 July, two destinations have reintroduced the complete closure of borders (Hungary and Ukraine). Beyond this, it says, some scheduled border openings have been cancelled or postponed and an additional five destinations have reintroduced some restrictions directed at passengers coming from specific countries with high infection rates.

In addition, tourists are affected increasingly by travel advisories issued by their own governments as well as by measures they apply such as quarantine or testing upon return to the home country.

Number of destinations with complete border closure April-September 2020

Source: Data compiled by UNWTO as of 1 September 2020

UNWTO warns that although many destinations are opening up – led by those with higher health and hygiene scores – it has concerns for tourism in many territories.

“The importance of tourism is, although not in all countries, influencing that borders are getting reopened. However, many countries still keep their borders closed with impacts not only for international tourism but significant side effects for their economies and societies.”

Destinations that have eased COVID-19 travel restrictions per economic status

Note: Out of the 115 destinations which eased restrictions, the chart displays the share of emerging and advanced economies.

Source: Data compiled by UNWTO as of 1 September 2020

It also notes that the threat of reintroduced restrictions if cases rise poses a big challenge.

“Immigration procedures and requirements will differ from destination to destination, which is especially challenging for the consistency of information on procedures and requirements across the different national authorities, namely health, foreign affairs, immigration and tourism authorities of a country. It is now even more important that national authorities ensure that immigration procedures and requirements are provided in a timely, reliable and consistent manner across all information systems and platforms, to maintain confidence and trust.”

Partner's message


The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 283 | 16 September 2020

The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 12 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit and to subscribe, please e-mail

Share this article: