Tourists have returned to some countries faster than others, with some already reaching 95% of pre-pandemic levels. Photo/Getty Images

New Zealand landed in the bottom twelve countries, recording the slowest recovery in tourist numbers.

The study of annual international arrivals from 75 countries aimed to show which travel destinations were returning fastest to their 2019 pre-covid tourism levels.

Partially compiled by financial services comparison site, the report found that while some countries had recovered faster than others, all destinations had lost visitor numbers.

Bahrain is the kingdom of return according to the survey, recovering almost 95% of the number of visitors before the pandemic. However, these new visitors have a limited budget.

“Tourism revenue of $1.8 billion in 2021 is just 49% of what the island nation racked up in 2019 ($3.7 billion), meaning travelers are spending less when visiting. “, says the report.

Countries in Europe – which have benefited from many neighboring tourism markets, were quicker to remove travel restrictions or did not have a sizeable tourism industry to begin with – experienced a rapid recovery in early 2021. Second and seventh faster to recover – Albania and Luxembourg quickly regained 70-90% of their 2019 visitor numbers by 2021 and retained around 50-45% of international arrivals even in 2020.

Long-haul destinations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean have seen a drastic drop in visitor numbers following the outbreak of the pandemic. The Dominican Republic, Maldives and Aruba lost nearly two-thirds of their 2020 visitor numbers, but rapid reopening and aggressive marketing have seen them rebound to nearly 80% of pre-pandemic visitor numbers in 2021 – as the 3rd, 4th and 5th fastest recovery. destinations, respectively.

The Maldives have reopened their borders to leisure travelers from July 2020, provided that visitors are taken to resorts on uninhabited islands. Despite the early opening of borders, the Maldives has been able to manage the pandemic recording 180,000 Covid-19 cases, the majority of them seen during peaks in early 2022.

Isolation destination: The Maldives opened resorts on 'isolated' islands for vacationers in July 2020. Photo/Ishan, Unsplash
Isolation destination: The Maldives opened resorts on ‘isolated’ islands for vacationers in July 2020. Photo/Ishan, Unsplash

According to the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism, the country attracted 700,000 more tourists in December 2021 than during the 2019 Christmas period.

However, not all countries flew in for the summer. Greater France, Spain and Italy, which saw between 65 and 90 million visitors a year, have struggled to recoup those huge numbers. All are still below 50% of pre-pandemic figures. Much of that is a loss of long-haul travel from destinations where travel was still on hiatus or where strict travel restrictions were still in place.

However, nowhere have the travel restrictions been felt more acutely than in the countries that enforce them. Hong Kong, Japan and Australia were all in the bottom ten destinations, with international visitors in 2021 accounting for less than 2% of pre-pandemic arrivals.

Australia – which posted the 6th slowest recovery – only lifted its foreign travel ban from November 2021 and opened its borders to overseas visitors in February 2022.
Similarly, Japan – the second slowest – just opened up to foreign tourists this month.

Hong Kong saw less than half a percent (0.4%) of its pre-covid visitors. The struggling travel hub’s strict covid-zero policies and quarantine measures mean the travel hub has only seen a fraction of the 24 million normal travelers who pass through Hong Kong. International tourism revenues fell to 6% of pre-pandemic levels.

New Zealand, however, fared somewhat better. As the twelfth slowest restart in tourism, with visitors in 2021 only a fifth of pre-pandemic levels.

Despite this, visitors spent more per capita than before the pandemic according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Jobs. The MBIE puts the value of international tourism in 2021 at $26.1 billion, or 60% of pre-pandemic levels. However, direct tourism spending plunged, to $8.5 billion, less than half its 2019 value.