(24 June 2020) While the worst economic expectations for 2020 did not materialize, the travel and tourism industry is not an object of envy with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. A global lockdown in 2020 in the first wave of pandemic and long-term border closures following the upsurge in new COVID-19 outbreaks resulted in a 65% decline in world exports of travel services in 2020 compared to the previous year. Cross-country comparison based on the IMF's balance of payments data shows that the trends in exports of travel services, such as booking services, hotel accommodation, and financial and restaurant services used by travelers, were decisive in shaping countries' net trade in services in 2020.

  • According to the aggregated balance of payments data collected by the IMF, world exports of tourism services declined by $1 trillion last year,  which accounted for 60% of $1.6 trillion drop in total world services exports.
  • Not all countries were hit equally by the decline in the world travel and tourism industry. From the 106-country data sample for which IMF published data on trade in services by category in 2020, thirty-three countries that reduced their net imports of travel services (the purchase of travel services from other countries) gained from the global travel and tourism industry collapse: lower imports, in national accounts methodology calculations, means higher GDP growth. The economies of China, Germany, Russia, the UK, and Australia gained the most, in absolute terms, by the 2020 tourism crisis.
  • For seventy-three countries in the sample, the global tourism slowdown had a negative impact on the national economy.  Spain and Thailand suffered the most in absolute terms, losing around $40 billions in net exports of travel services.
  • In relative terms, the decline in travel services imports in 2020 added more than 1% to GDP for seven countries, including Iraq and Norway, whose GDPs increased by more than 2% due to the 2020 tourism industry crisis. Small island countries lost the most in relative terms: the decline in the net trade in tourism services in 2020 cost Aruba 39% of GDP, and Seychelles and the Bahamas lost 29% and 26% of GDP, respectively.
  • The 106 cross-country data panel shows a strong direct correlation between change in net trade in travel services and change in total net trade in services. Data shows that per $1 decline/increase in net trade in travel services, total net trade in services on average declined/grew by $1.1.

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