Countries most dependent on tourism
When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, it put travelers around the world into a frenzy. Those who were at home began working with airlines to cancel upcoming travel plans and try to guess a safe time to reschedule trips they’d paid for already. Travelers who were abroad scrambled to get a seat on one of the remaining flights home, before borders were closed and lockdowns were put in place. And once strict travel restrictions were implemented, many foreign tourists—including more than 13,000 Americans—were left stranded in their vacation destinations, unsure when or if they’d be able to get home safely.
As devastating as the pandemic has been on those who love to travel, it’s been far worse for countries that depend on a steady stream of visitors to bolster their economies and support local jobs. In fact, data from the World Economic Forum shows that around one in 10 people across the globe work in tourism, and the industry has been responsible for about a quarter of all net new jobs created worldwide between 2014 and 2019.
Popular tourism destinations have been hemorrhaging jobs and losing huge amounts of revenue while people are stuck at home. The United Nations World Tourism Organization has predicted that tourist numbers could plummet as much as 80% this year, while the World Travel & Tourism Council warned in June that more than 197 million jobs could vanish amid ongoing travel restrictions.
While most, if not all, countries will feel the effects of a decline in tourism in some way, tourism-dependent nations will inevitably fare the worst while the main driver of their economies is gone. To find the countries most reliant on tourism, Stacker consulted the World Bank’s TCdata360 database released in 2020. Countries were ranked based on tourism’s percentage of contribution to their GDP. Any country not a member of the United Nations was removed from the dataset. All monetary values are real U.S. dollars. Stacker also consulted local and international news agencies, reports from governments and authoritative organizations, and articles from travel publications to understand the impact that declining tourism rates are having on these vulnerable destinations.
Click through to learn more about how the most tourism-dependent countries are coping during the coronavirus.
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- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $320.6 million (13.7% of total GDP; 821.9% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 92,300 (13% of total jobs)
Lesotho sealed its borders in mid-March after South Africa, the country that surrounds the landlocked nation, repatriated its citizens from Wuhan, China, report Lungile Matsuma and Nady Weitza of Independent Online. The country, which is known for its high-altitude mountain ranges, remained closed to travelers as of early September, according to Kashlee Kucheran of Travel Off Path.
#49. Syrian Arab Republic
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $2.4 billion (14% of total GDP; 6.2% decrease since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 177,100 (8.3% of total jobs)
Tourism has been a struggle in Syria since its civil war broke out in 2011, and the pandemic has not helped the situation. Prior to these struggles, the country attracted tourists to its historic mosques, the Aleppo Citadel, and the Old City of Damascus.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $1.9 billion (14.1% of total GDP; 1.4% decrease since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 103,000 (14.2% of total jobs)
In early September, Namibia reopened to international tourists after closing its borders due to COVID-19. Tourists who can show a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight must quarantine at an approved accommodation for at least seven days, and test negative again on the fifth day, before they can explore the country’s wildlife sanctuaries and other attractions.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $5.9 billion (14.4% of total GDP; 19.2% decrease since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 478,300 (13.2% of total jobs)
Tunisia has suffered massive financial damage by the decline in tourism during the pandemic, according to a France 24 report. The country’s extensive coastline with its white sand beaches naturally attracts tourists. Volunteers in the country want to jump-start tourism with a new initiative focused on saving rare turtles.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $9 billion (14.6% of total GDP; 97.5% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 273,900 (14.6% of total jobs)
The future of the Panama Canal, one of Panama’s most popular tourist attractions, has been put in jeopardy by the pandemic, report Jeremy Hobson and Samantha Raphelson of WBUR, Boston. It has experienced a sharp decline in shipping vessels and cruise ships over the past few months.
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- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $62.3 billion (14.6% of total GDP; 2.7% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 717,000 (15.9% of total jobs)
Austria saw 97% of the reservations tourists made for accommodations get canceled in April. The country is now gearing up for expected challenges in the winter tourism season and figuring out ways to make the après-ski scene safer, according to Vindobona.org-Vienna International News.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $60 million (14.8% of total GDP; 90% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 5,300 (15.9% of total jobs)
The year 2020 has been a tough one for tourism in Tonga. Not only has the country been dealing with the effects of the pandemic on the tourism industry, it was also slammed by Superstorm Harold in April, which totally destroyed popular resorts across the country.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $201.9 billion (14.9% of total GDP; 10.6% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 2.9 million (15% of total jobs)
Spain experienced a 75% year-over-year drop in tourism in July due to the pandemic. The country, which had a notoriously strict lockdown in March, had no tourists whatsoever in April and May, reports Luke Hurst of EuroNews.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $3.5 billion (15.1% of total GDP; 62.8% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 538,800 (13.3% of total jobs)
After closing its borders on March 15, Honduras began welcoming the return of international flights on Aug. 17, report the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. During the closure, the country had been working on modernizing its tourism sectors through online courses.
- Tourism total contribution to GDP: $5.9 billion (15.1% of total GDP; 144.3% increase since 1998)
- Jobs reliant on tourism: 636,800 (13.8% of total jobs)
Hit hard by a drop in tourism during the pandemic, Azerbaijan has developed a four-phase recovery plan to encourage people to visit the destination. The plan includes a major virtual travel trade festival for tourism professionals in October, as reported in Vestnik Kavkaza.
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