The annual Economic Impact Report (EIR) from the World Travel & Tourism Council WTTC revealed the U.S. travel & tourism sector suffered a significant loss of $766 billion in 2020.
In 2019, the U.S. travel & tourism sector accrued a GDP of nearly $1.9 trillion. However, WTTC’s research found that in 2020, a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the industry, the country saw a 41% decrease to the sector’s GDP contribution. With the U.S. being the largest Travel & Tourism economy in the world, the country’s recovery plays an important role in the rebound of the sector on a global level.
According to the report, travel & tourism supported more than 16.5 million jobs (10.5% of total U.S. employment) in 2019. In 2020, travel & tourism jobs within the U.S. declined 33.2% to 11.1 million (7.5% of total U.S. employment). Globally, the sector saw a decrease of a staggering 62 million (18.5%) jobs in 2020 alone.
“Travel & Tourism plays a pivotal role in supplying both jobs and financial gains to the overall U.S. economy,” said Gloria Guevara, president/CEO, WTTC. “The industry’s decline due to the pandemic has been felt across the board for families, business owners and tour operators who rely on a thriving sector for their livelihood. A restart of international travel will create more employment opportunities and empower a resurgence of the country’s economy. Our research shows that if mobility and international travel resumes by summer this year, the sector’s contribution to global travel & tourism GDP could rise sharply in 2021.”
International and domestic travel play a key role in the U.S. economy regaining strength. The loss in traveler spend and unemployment, has been felt across the entire country, with Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs), which make up 80% of all travel & tourism businesses, significantly impacted. Furthermore, as one of the world’s most diverse sectors, the impact on women, youth and minorities was significant.
The revival of travel & tourism businesses in the U.S. private sector will boost gains across the industry as a key component to the overall financial contributions that move public initiatives and campaigns forward.
The country’s domestic travel spend saw less of a drastic change with a decrease of 37.1%, while international visitor spend dropped by 76.7% in 2020—decreasing from $181.2 billion in 2019, to just $42.2 billion in 2020.
The U.S. market and global travel & tourism sector is steadily trending in the right direction for recovery due to the efforts of the Biden administration. The $14 billion allocated to airlines, as stipulated in the earlier announced American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, coupled with the rapid pace of vaccine rollouts, presents opportunities for companies within the sector to regain losses and reinstate job positions across the industry.
“WTTC applauds the Biden administration’s swift action to effectively fight against COVID-19 through a robust vaccine rollout, firm stance on mask wearing to prevent further spread, and providing a much-needed stimulus to the Travel & Tourism sector,” she said. “These steps are crucial in restarting international travel and reinvigorating the U.S. economy through the travel sector.”
WTTC believes that if international travel is resumed by June this year, it will provide the boost necessary to bring back job opportunities in the U.S. and jumpstart gains in the economy.
The global tourism body also reported that public and private collaboration is key to reviving the sector, and following the recent meeting with business leaders, WTTC is confident that the Biden administration will continue to work closely with the private sector in its efforts to restore international travel.
“WTTC supports the recent announcements by the CDC regarding the effectiveness with vaccinations that will allow travelers to move around safely and hopes to see the health organization get behind a more standardized approach to help travel restart safely and seamlessly,” said Guevara. “While the vaccine rollout across the U.S. has started to boost confidence in travel again, WTTC strongly believes that the key to safely unlocking the sector by this summer, and in turn reviving millions of jobs, lies within a comprehensive testing regime for non-vaccinated travelers, mandatory mask wearing, and enhanced health and hygiene protocols across the board.”
The safe reopening of the travel & tourism sector within the U.S. and globally is the pathway forward, according to the WTTC. A clear and consistent framework around comprehensive testing pre-departure for all non-vaccinated travelers, enhanced health and safety protocols, and mandatory mask wearing will work to restart the sector.