As a new year begins, it is a good opportunity to reflect on international travel in 2023 and to also look ahead…

The global travel industry courageously navigated the pandemic’s severe ramifications and continues to demonstrate tremendous resilience post-Covid-19.  It’s been nearly four years since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, swiftly followed by travel bans and restrictions and an inevitable reduced consumer appetite for travel. The long road to recovery continued throughout 2023.

According to some experts, the industry won’t fully recover until 2024 or later. Despite this, 2023 was a strong year for international travel. According to data from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international arrivals reached 85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the second quarter of 2023, and 90 per cent in July. “International arrivals are higher than 2022 in all regions across the world and we expect this trend to continue in 2024, with many regions surpassing 2019 levels by the end of [the] year,” confirmed Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President, Advocacy and Communications at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

Signs point to continued growth in 2024 and the opportunity for pre-pandemic focus areas to come back into the spotlight for the industry. A spokesperson for UK travel agents’ association ABTA told ITIJ: “It is likely that international travel will continue to grow in 2024, with passenger numbers achieving or surpassing pre-pandemic levels. In the UK, many travel companies are already reporting record numbers for 2023 and healthy interest in forward booking for 2024.”

The reparative power of technology

For many, accelerating digital transformation became a priority during the pandemic, with innovations such as QR scanning, biometric facial recognition and thermal scanning technologies replacing manual processes. This focus continued in 2023 with, for many, technology playing a key role in recovery and being seen as paramount to enhancing global travel.

William Raillant-Clark, Communications Officer, Office of the Secretary General, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), told ITIJ: “Much of the operational rethink and technological innovations resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic will change and improve the travel experience, for example in the area of facilitation, with the use and implementation of biometric identity technologies taking great steps forward.”

Looking ahead throughout 2024, it is anticipated that technology will continue to be a key driver for change and innovation in travel and tourism. “Digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics will continue to reshape the sector,” stated Messina. “We expect the widespread adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for immersive travel experiences, allowing travellers to explore destinations from the comfort of their homes before making decisions.”

ITIJ also spoke with Roi Ariel, General Manager, Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), who agreed that advancements in technology will be a catalyst for change: “Particularly in the simplification of processes through the utilisation of AI and data analytics. As technology continues to evolve, it will reshape how we plan, book and experience travel, and hopefully enhance the overall sustainability in the industry,” he said.


Ariel underlined that sustainability will play a pivotal role in the recovery of international tourism and is a shared and crucial factor that is rising higher and higher on stakeholders’ agendas. “Travellers and stakeholders increasingly prioritise sustainable and responsible tourism practices. Embracing sustainability is not just a trend; it’s becoming a fundamental factor that will shape the future of the travel industry,” he said.


Sustainable tourism is not just a catchphrase

In addition to embracing eco-friendly practices and harnessing innovation for sustainability, the importance of environmental conservation and responsible tourism can’t be overstated. “Sustainability must be viewed holistically, not just our impact on the environment but ensuring that local people benefit from tourism and that those employed in the industry are paid a decent wage,” an ABTA spokesperson highlighted. Interest among consumers in sustainable accommodation is increasing, with travellers recognising the importance of selecting a responsible hotel brand or opting to stay in sustainable accommodation in order to help reduce their environmental impact.

“The Singapore Tourism Board announced the launch of the Hotel Sustainability Roadmap,” said Ariel. “By 2025 its goal is for 60 per cent of hotel room stock to achieve hotel sustainability certification through a GSTC-accredited certification body.

“We are witnessing a significant shift towards a better understanding, adoption and demand for sustainable tourism practices. Sustainable tourism has already become a mainstream term, and now it’s time to apply this term in a proper manner and not just as a catchphrase.”

Continue reading the original article written by Lauren Haigh for  (Featured in ITIJ 276 | January 2024) here: 

[Photo Credit: ITIJ]