15 Global Travel Industry Statistics to Explore in 2023

Updated · May 20, 2023

Every year, a fifth of the world’s population goes on holiday abroad, even more people go on holiday in their home country, and over a tenth of the people worldwide are permanently occupied in the tourism industry.

So, it’s safe to say that traveling plays a huge part in the lives of many.

Join us as we analyze the latest global travel industry statistics and find out just how badly the pandemic affected many countries’ economies—and how far they’ve come since on the path to recovery.

Global Travel Industry Facts (Editor’s Choice):

  • “Laptop luggers” travel twice as often as “disconnectors”.
  • At the end of 2021, business travel was still 40% down from 2019 levels.
  • Tourism generated 8.6% of the United States GDP in 2019.
  • 70% of travelers are willing to sacrifice convenience for sustainable travel.
  • Business travel makes up a fifth of global tourism revenues.
  • Globally, there were 65.5 million international tourist arrivals in May 2022—that’s half the influx in May 2020.
  • The tourism industry employs 330 million people worldwide.
  • Travel accounted for 6.1% of global GDP in 2021.

Statistical Overview of the Travel and Tourism Industry

Billions of people travel domestically and internationally, hundreds of millions work in the travel industry, and many more benefit from tourism indirectly.

When it comes down to it, almost everyone has had something to do with the industry at one point or another—be it providing a service or receiving one.

Let’s get down to the numbers.

1. Globally, there were 65.5 million international tourist arrivals in May 2022.

(Source: UNWTO)

The recovery of the travel industry in the post-pandemic world isn’t going too well for now. Transnational travel, in particular, is a long way from 2019 levels.

In May 2022, for instance, there were 65.5 million international tourist arrivals worldwide. That’s barely over half the number recorded in May 2019, when 121 million people traveled abroad.

The positive news is that it’s also three times more than in May 2021, when just 19.9 million were able to go holidaying in another country.

2. The tourism industry employs 330 million people worldwide—or, at least, it did before COVID.

(Source: Visual Capitalist)

The size of the travel industry had continually ballooned in the last few decades before coming to an abrupt stop in 2020. Immediately before the pandemic, the global tourism industry employed 330 million people.

Some of the countries that took the hardest hit were popular destinations in Southeast Asia, like the Philippines. Up to a quarter of the country’s population worked to attend to the more than eight million tourists who visited throughout the year.

In fact, many insular nations—like Aruba and St. Lucia—struggled significantly, as up to 90% of their labor market depends on tourism.

Today, the travel industry employs 289 million people—a notable decrease from pre-pandemic times.

Concerning fact: Not only the island nations struggled because of the lack of pandemic travel. Countries like Macau, Belize, and Croatia had over 20% of their population working in the tourism sector.

3. Travel and tourism accounted for 6.1% of the global GDP in 2021.

(Source: Statista)

Global travel industry stats show that in 2021, travel accounted for just 6.1% of the global gross domestic product.

While that’s a significant increase over 2020, when it made up just 5.3% of global GDP, it’s still a far cry from pre-pandemic figures. Back in 2019, tourism made up 10.3% of the global GDP.

In other words, the global travel industry’s revenue went from $9.6 trillion in 2019 to just $5.8 trillion in 2021.

Worse still, experts suggest the travel industry won’t be able to return to pre-covid levels until at least 2024.

Fun fact: Tourism was the second fastest-growing industry before COVID-19. It grew by 3.9%, outdoing every other industry except for manufacturing, which expanded by 4%.

4. 61% of young Gen Zers prefer to travel internationally.

(Source: Travel Agent Central)

Analyzing travel statistics by age group highlights certain discrepancies. 

For instance, It seems that the older someone is, the more likely it is that they’d choose domestic travel. About 55% of US Gen Zers favor international travel, but as many as 61% of the youngest among them do. 

And that’s just Gen Z—each following age group is less likely to go on trips abroad.

Fun fact: 57% of the general US population prefers relaxing vacations over exciting trips. However, if we look specifically at Gen Zers, we’ll find the majority would rather go adventuring instead—especially the youngest ones (67%).

Business Travel Statistics

You may not normally associate the terms “business” and “tourism” with one another, but business tourism (or business travel) is a significant part of the industry.

And, in a way, COVID hit it harder than regular leisure-oriented tourism, sending it into a near-existential crisis.

5. At the end of 2021, business travel was still 40% down from 2019 levels.

(Source: Bloomberg)

The future of business travel remains uncertain despite the lifting of restrictions in much of the world. Sure, things have improved a bit since the early days of the pandemic, when travel was down 90%, but it’s still far from what it used to be. 

In mid-2021, it was down 60%. By the end of the year, travel was approximately 40% below pre-pandemic standards.

That said, with the rise of virtual conferencing solutions, it’s hard to say if business travel will ever fully recover.

6. Business travel makes up a fifth of global tourism revenues.

(Source: The Economist)

Traveling for business was definitely more common before the pandemic, but, interestingly enough, its share of the total tourism revenues hasn’t decreased much.

In 2019, 21% of all travel spending was work-related, leaving the remaining 79% of the revenue to be associated with leisure-oriented pursuits.

In 2021, business travel still made up 20% of the total, at approximately $600 billion out of nearly $3 trillion.

7. “Laptop luggers” travel twice as often as “disconnectors.”

(Source: Bloomberg)

Have you heard the term bleisure?

It’s an amalgamation of “business” and “leisure.”

Traveling for work and vacationing with your family no longer have to be completely separate activities. In fact, statistics show that “laptop luggers”—i.e., those who travel with their laptops and work while on vacation—travel 2-4 times a year. 

For comparison, “disconnectors”—i.e., people who completely unplug when on holiday—only pack their bags one or two times per year.

US Travel Statistics—COVID and GDP

The US is one of the foremost tourist destinations, attracting millions of international arrivals annually—when a pandemic isn’t causing concern, of course.

Fortunately, things are now improving. Domestic tourism, in particular, has already recovered and is now growing.

8. The tourism industry in the United States accounted for up to 8.6% of the pre-pandemic GDP.

(Source: Visual Capitalist)

In 2019, travel generated $1.8 trillion. In 2020, this figure dropped to a little over $1 trillion. In 2021, the situation improved somewhat, with the travel industry reporting $1.27 trillion.

The thing is that COVID-19 made international tourism nearly impossible, which means that international travel spending saw quite a drop.

In 2019, about 10% of total tourism revenues derived from foreigners traveling to the US (that’s about $181 billion coming in from abroad). In 2020, a mere 4% did ($42.2 billion).

9. The US travel industry has lost $755 billion since the pandemic’s outbreak.

(Source: U.S. Travel Association)

Even as domestic leisure travel spending recovered—and grew 4%—in 2021, reaching $751 billion (compared to $722 billion in 2019), business and international travel revenues remained 56% and 78% down, respectively.

As of May 2022, total travel spending is still 22% lower than what it used to be.

10. Tourism to the US is down by 72% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

(Source: U.S. Travel Association)

In 2019, 79.4 million international visitors came to the country. In 2020, that number went down to just 19 million. 2021 saw little improvement and added a mere three million to the count, reaching 22 million.

Arrivals from Canada are particularly weak now, at just 12% compared to pre-2020 levels. The largest source of inbound tourists is now Mexico, with 10.4 million visitors as of 2021, making up almost half of the US international arrivals.

All the same, that’s just 57% of the typical volume of Mexican tourists.

11. In 2021, 33 million people visited NYC—half the usual amount.

(Source: Spectrum News NY1)

A look at US tourism statistics by city shows that New York is still the number one destination, followed by Miami and Los Angeles.

In 2021, NYC attracted 33 million visitors—a marked increase from the 22 million in 2020, but a long way down from 2019, when 66 million people (including the 10 million international travelers) visited the Big Apple.

NYC & Company—the city’s official nonprofit tourism organization—expects this year’s arrivals to reach 56 million.

With the removal of most COVID-era measures and entry restrictions, barring any further global cataclysms, tourism is likely to make a steady comeback over 2022 and 2023, reaching pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

See what’s popular in the post-COVID world.

12. There were 1.465 billion tourist arrivals in 2019.

(Source: UNWTO)

How many people travel a year?

2010 was the last year when under a billion people went holidaying abroad. Since then, the number of tourist arrivals has continuously increased, reaching 1.4 billion in 2019.

Then, the coronavirus happened.

In 2020, just 405 million people traveled to another country. In 2021, 429 million did. And unless things pick up some serious speed, recovery may take a while.

But what are the main reasons behind the unimpressive growth of the travel industry?

13. 77% of travelers say the main barrier to travel is government restrictions.

(Source: Statista)

It turns out that the most significant concern travelers have is related to government restrictions—77% say overly strict measures discourage them from going abroad, and 64% don’t want to deal with quarantining, which is still required in some Asian countries.

A relatively lower number of people (53%) are worried about their health.

Interestingly enough, despite the state of the economy, only 15% cite financial concerns as a reason not to travel internationally.

14. On average, one in every 90 million flyers dies in an accident.

(Source: Our World in Data)

You’ve probably heard that air travel is very safe. That’s true—the latest global travel industry stats suggest that just one out of 90 million flyers will die in an accident.

But airplanes weren’t always this safe. In much of the twentieth century, at least one in a million flyers would die tragically. It wasn’t until the twenty-first century that safety regulations picked up.

Curious fact: In 1969, there was a spike in hijacking incidents. That’s the only year in history when passengers were significantly less likely to die in a plane than to be on a hijacked one. By the end of the year, there were 66 fatalities and 86 hijacking incidents recorded.

15. 70% of travelers are willing to sacrifice convenience for sustainable travel.

(Source: Business Wire)

Global travel industry statistics suggest that 90% of travelers look for sustainable options when booking their trips. In fact, 70% are willing to sacrifice some convenience if it means their trip will be more environmentally friendly.

Furthermore, about half of all tourists would like to see more information about sustainability in regard to various aspects of their journey.

All in all, it seems social and environmental consciousness are trending among travelers. For instance, 75% of tourists prefer to support local communities by choosing local lodgings, restaurants, and transportation.

Fun fact: Ecotourism statistics suggest that the market will reach $333 million by 2027—that’s quite the leap from 2019’s $181 million.

Wrap Up

Pandemic or not, tourism isn’t going anywhere. Even in the fateful 2020 itself, despite all the severe restrictions imposed by governments around the world, hundreds of millions of people still managed to travel abroad.

If all the global travel industry statistics we discussed so far are anything to go by, we can expect the industry to recover within the next few years. We also anticipate more sustainable forms of tourism to boom once the situation normalizes.

Jordan T. Prodanoff
Jordan T. Prodanoff

A wayfarer by heart, Jordan fancies journeying into foreign lands with a camera in hand almost as much as he enjoys roving the online world. He spends his time poking at letters and pixels, trying to transmogrify them into something cool.