The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $1.3 trillion in lost revenue in 2020 as the number of people travelling plunged, the UN said Thursday, calling it "the worst year in tourism history".
Revenue lost last year amounted to "more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global economic crisis," the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization said in a statement, warning that between 100 million and 120 million direct tourism jobs were at risk.
International tourist arrivals fell by one billion, or 74 percent, in 2020 with Asia, the first region to feel the impact of Covid-19, seeing the steepest decline, it added.
"While much has been made in making safe international travel a possibility, we are aware that the crisis is far from over," WTO head Zurab Pololikashvili said in the statement.
The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines is expected to "slowly normalise travel" in 2021 but many countries are reintroducing travel restrictions such as quarantines, mandatory testing and border closures "due to the evolving nature of the pandemic", the body said.
The Asia and Pacific region recorded an 84 percent drop in arrivals.
It was followed by Africa and the Middle East with a 75 percent drop, Europe with 70 percent fewer visitors "despite a small and short-lived revival in the summer" and the Americas where arrivals fell by 69 percent.
International tourism arrivals rose by four percent in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world's most visited country, followed by Spain and the United States.
The last time international tourist arrivals posted an annual decline was in 2009 when the global economic crisis led to a four percent drop.
The WTO said most experts do not see a return to pre-pandemic levels of tourism activity before 2023.
Open-air and nature-based tourism will see growing demand when tourism restarts, with domestic tourism also expected to be more popular, the body said.
While international tourism has taken a hit from the outbreak of disease in the past, the coronavirus is unprecedented in its geographical spread.
By comparison, international tourism arrivals fell by just 0.4 percent in 2003 after the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which killed 774 people worldwide.
The coronavirus has killed at least 2,176,000 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
The tourism industry accounts for about 10 percent of the world's gross domestic product (GDP) and jobs.