How Are International Travel Restrictions Impacting the Global Tourism Industry?

COVID-19 travel restrictions

The tourism industry has been hit incredibly hard by the travel restrictions implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries have closed their borders to international tourism, and domestic tourism has come to a halt amid quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing. This has been devastating for organizations and individuals in the tourism industry, but it’s also a threat to countries that rely heavily on tourism. Governments and businesses around the world are working to determine when it will be possible to reopen their doors to tourists and what measures will need to be put in place in order to do so safely.

What are the costs of international travel restrictions?

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the global pandemic caused a 22% decline in international tourism arrivals during Q1 of this year. Depending on when borders reopen and travel restrictions are eased, the total decline in arrivals is expected to fall between 58% and 78% for 2020. This translates into losses of between $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in export revenues from tourism, and 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs. While domestic tourism is expected to recover more quickly – possibly as soon as late summer this year – international tourism is unlikely to begin to recover until 2021. Africa and the Middle East have the most positive outlook, while the Americas have the least. Expert opinions on Europe and Asia are mixed, and outcomes will likely vary based on the approaches that various countries take.

When and how will countries reopen to tourists?


Greece has fared better than many other countries during the pandemic – the country began a strict lockdown in March and has only seen about 150 deaths from the coronavirus. In the past week, some businesses have been allowed to reopen and the government is considering allowing international tourism as soon as July. Greece’s economy is highly dependent on tourism, with at least a quarter of jobs based in tourism or related industries, so the question of when tourism can resume is an important one.

Careful testing regimes would be necessary to open the country safely. Currently, all international arrivals are screened for COVID-19, but in order to open for tourism with as little risk as possible, testing would need to be conducted before travelers arrive in the country, not after. Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hopes for European or international standards for travel to help facilitate this.

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Georgia is also hoping to open for international tourism in July. The country plans to allow domestic tourism starting on June 15th, with international travel following on July 1st. Georgia’s prime minister is considering the possibility of special tourist zones with extra COVID-19 protection measures, and has announced that the tourism industry will have property taxes waived for 2020 and income taxes postponed.


Sicily has set aside funds to reopen for tourism, but has yet to set a date. France, meanwhile, has decided to limit international travel during the summer, opening to just Europeans until the situation improves. Other countries, such as Italy, have similar plans to allow only regional tourism for the time being.


Turkey has managed to keep its death rate low through testing and contact tracing. With 2.5 million workers in tourism-related industries, the country is preparing to gradually reopen certain locations with increased safety measures. These include certifications for hotels and transport companies asserting that they have proper cleaning procedures, requiring tourists to wear masks, and changing how buffet meals are served. Hotels will need to operate at 60% capacity, and no fitness centers or spas will be open.

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A new perspective on travel and tourism

Any country or business opening for tourism once the coronavirus begins to wind down will need to take new safety measures into account. Rigorous disinfecting and physical distancing measures will need to be put in place, not only to prevent the spread of the virus but to build confidence in prospective tourists. Even once travel restrictions are loosened, many people will be reluctant to take the risk to travel immediately, and some will have much tighter budgets due to increased unemployment. Implementing new practices will help reassure people who may be on the fence about traveling.

Hotels and resorts are already developing and implementing new cleaning procedures in their chains around the world, and some are investigating the possibility of contactless check-ins and other measures to reduce in-person interactions. Tourism organizations are reducing or removing activities that require guests to be in close proximity to one another in favor of those that allow for more distance, and anticipate less demand for crowded locales such as beaches and more for quieter trips such as mountain getaways. Universal Studios is creating plans that will allow visitors to return, including leaving empty seats between riders on its roller coasters.

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Many airlines are finding it challenging to adapt to the dramatically lower travel rates and the need for physical distancing. Many major air carriers need to fill at least 70% of their seats in order for a flight to be profitable, so the need to increase space between passengers will require them to either raise their prices or stop operations altogether.

Not everyone is planning to reopen as soon as travel restrictions are loosened, however. Small businesses especially are concerned about the risks involved. A case of the virus on the premises could force a temporary shutdown, costing the business money and risking the health of both visitors and staff. It could also damage the business’s reputation – many tourists won’t want to visit an establishment that had a coronavirus outbreak for fear of a repeat of the event. Some places will therefore prefer to remain closed this year, especially if tourism levels are expected to be well below average for at least the next several months.

As devastating as they’ve been on both a national and individual level, global travel restrictions have been a necessary component of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve. Any decisions to relax them will need to be made carefully, and both governments and businesses in the tourism industry will need to ensure they are prepared to operate with enhanced cleaning practices and physical distancing measures in place. By providing both financial support and best practices to the tourism sector, companies can not only keep tourists and workers safe, but also increase consumer confidence and encourage people to start traveling once more.

For more coverage on the impact of COVID-19 across industries, explore Technavio’s impact analysis page. Discover new market research reports, blogs, and more on the coronavirus and how businesses are adapting to it.