World Tourism Organization says that the amount of revenue lost between January and May is more than three times the loss during the global financial crisis of 2009.

A cardboard stand-up of
A cardboard stand-up of "Kaiser Franz Joseph", Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, is decorated with a face mask in front of a crafts shop in St Wolfgang, Austria on July. 27, 2020. (AP)

The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $320 billion in lost revenue during the first five months of 2020, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people, the UN has said.

The amount of revenue lost between January and May is "more than three times the loss during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009," the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

International tourist arrivals fell by 300 million during the period, or 56 percent, as lockdown restrictions to control the spread of Covid-19 hammered the travel sector, it added.

"This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so. The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk," the body's secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili, said.

Read More: How Turkey and Europe plan to reopen for tourism

Sector faces "downside risks"

While tourism is slowly returning in some destinations, the UN body warned the sector faced serious "downside risks" such as a resurgence of the virus that could trigger new lockdowns, travel restrictions and border shutdowns in "most destinations".

The United States and China, both major sources of international tourists, are still "at standstill" it added.

The UN body forecast in May that international tourist arrivals could plunge by 60 to 80 percent in 2020 owing to the coronavirus.

International tourism arrivals rose by four percent in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world's most visited country, followed by Spain and the United States.

The last time international tourist arrivals posted an annual decline was in 2009 when the global economic crisis led to a four percent drop.

Read More: International tourism to fall as much as 80 percent due to virus – UN

Global airlines less hopeful 

Meanwhile, global airlines have cut their coronavirus recovery forecast, saying it would take until 2024 for passenger traffic to return to pre-crisis levels.

In an update on the pandemic’s crippling impact on air travel, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) cited slow virus containment in the US and developing countries, and a weaker outlook for corporate travel.

Lingering travel barriers and new restrictions in some markets are also weighing on nearer-term prospects, IATA said, cutting its 2020 passenger numbers forecast to a 55 percent decline, sharper than the 46 percent drop predicted in April.

“The second half of this year will see a slower recovery than we’d hoped,” IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said. June passenger numbers were down 86.5 percent year-on-year, the organisation said, after a 91 percent contraction in May.

A surprise move by Britain to quarantine arrivals from Spain has created lot of uncertainty, Pearce said. “That is clearly going to be an issue with the recovery.”

Read MoreCoronavirus has a devastating impact on the world tourism economy

Lying on premium-paying passengers 

Recovery prospects are weakened by the spread of Covid-19 in the US and developing countries together representing 40 percent of global air travel, IATA said.

Business travel may also face a sustained slump, threatening the profitability of long-haul airlines and routes as corporate clients rein in spending and make greater use of video-conferences that have become the norm during lockdowns.

“It will remain to be seen whether we see a recovery to pre-crisis business travel patterns,” Pearce said. “Our concern is that we won’t.”

Long-haul carriers may need to rely more heavily on cargo to maintain the viability of some routes because of lower business demand, he said.

“For many network airlines, the premium-paying passengers were essentially the ones who drove the profitability.” 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies