Banque de France Bulletin no. 236: Article 4 Review of world and France travel in 2020: from annus horribilis to lasting reconfiguration?

Covid 19 has severely disrupted international travel. In 2020, the restrictions on movement that each country put in place on both traveller arrivals and departures, combined with internal measures, led to a global decrease of 74% in international arrivals and 66% in receipts. As the leading tourist destination in terms of number of travellers and the third largest in terms of receipts, France felt the full force of the shutdown of a flagship sector, losing 50% of its travel receipts. However, the tapering of restrictions in the summer limited the extent of the fall within the European Union, by contrast with travel outside the European Union, which remained very subdued. International travel looks set to undergo a lasting geographical reconfiguration involving a decline in long distance journeys. In this context, France’s market share gains compared with other European countries in 2020 remain to be confirmed.

1 2020, an annus horribilis for international travel

A historic fall in global travel

2020 constituted an unprecedented upheaval for the tourism sector, with international travel down by 74% from 2019 (see Chart 1). Whereas previous crises such as SARS in 2003 and the 2008 global economic crisis had led to moderate declines in arrivals of 0.4% and 4%, respectively, 2020 defies all comparison. The global resilience that international tourism showed during the 2000s thus seems to have been undermined at the beginning of this decade.

The year on year decrease in the number of international arrivals bottomed out in April (by 97% compared with April 2019, according to the World Tourism Organization), when the tightest restrictions on movement were in place. Arrivals then gradually increased until August – although still remaining far below the norm – before falling back again in November 2020.

While the 1.5 billion year on year contraction in the number of tourists affected all countries, it was unevenly distributed across continents. The fall was highest in Asia Pacific, at 85%, followed by Africa and the Middle East and the Americas (70%), and then Europe (69%).

In addition to the drastic fall in the number of journeys, the 2020 crisis was characterised by a structural change in travel. Asia’s ascendancy as a tourist destination over the past 20 years – accounting for 13% of international arrivals in 1990 compared with 25% in 2019 (see Chart 1) – was thus abruptly curtailed, to 14% of arrivals in 2020. Most travel destination changes worked to the advantage of Europe, which thanks to the journeys of Europeans within the area (see below) gained 8 percentage points (from 51% to 59%), and, to a lesser extent, the Americas, which put on 2 points to 17%. The weight of Africa and the Middle East in international arrivals remained relatively stable in 2020.

Restrictions on movement affecting both departures and arrivals

The unprecedented decrease in international arrivals stemmed mainly from two factors: on the one hand entry restrictions to foreign countries (tests, quarantine and in some cases prohibitions on entry), and on the other hand departure restrictions (lockdown, interregional travel bans, etc.), coupled with a low incentive to travel resulting from the enforced closure of the main places frequented by tourists (hotels, restaurants, cultural and recreational venues, etc.) and local travel restrictions.

Globally, restrictions on the arrival of international visitors varied in stringency, from simple tests to full border closures …

Download the PDF version of this document

Banque de France Bulletin no. 236: Review of world and France travel in 2020: from annus horribilis to lasting reconfiguration?
  • Published on 09/15/2021
  • 13 pages
  • EN
  • PDF (549.94 KB)
Download (EN)
Economy and international financing

Updated on: 09/15/2021 09:37