While the omicron variant, which continues to spread around the world, harms economic recovery, global tourism arrivals are not expected to return to their pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has said, according to Daily Sabah.

The tourism industry suffered a huge blow in 2020 as a result of lockdowns and travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which made people around the world limit their activity and many lost their livelihoods.

The highly contagious omicron variant, though mild, will disrupt the recovery in early 2022 after last year saw 4% growth over 2020, according to the Madrid-based United Nations agency’s World Tourism Barometer.

Tourism revenue in 2020 was 72% down on the previous year – which closed with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pace of recovery remains slow and uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveler confidence,” the UNWTO said in a press release.

“The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the omicron variant are set to disrupt the recovery and affect confidence through early 2022 as some countries reintroduce travel bans and restrictions for certain markets,” the report said.

In Europe and the Americas, foreign visitor arrivals surged by 19% and 17%, respectively, last year over 2020.

In the Middle East, however, arrivals declined by 24% in 2021, while in the Asia-Pacific region they were 65% below 2020 levels and 94% down on pre-pandemic levels.

The statement said tourism professionals “see better prospects” for this year after turbulence in the early months because of the omicron wave.

The agency predicts a 30% to 78% rise in international arrivals this year over 2021 while remaining far below 2019 levels.

Most experts say they do not foresee a return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024, it said.

Many countries are highly dependent on tourism and are eagerly awaiting a return to normal.

“The economic contribution of tourism in 2021 (measured in tourism direct gross domestic product) is estimated at $1.9 trillion, above the $1.6 trillion in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of $3.5 trillion,” the statement noted.