Leisure Travel Boom Propels Travel & Tourism Industry to New Heights

by Brian Major
Last updated: 5:00 AM ET, Sat April 6, 2024

The World Travel and Tourism Council
(WTTC)’s 2024 Economic Impact Research (EIR) paints a picture of extended
growth for leisure travel, solidifying the industry’s status as a major global
economic engine.

“It’s fair to say that travel is not
just back, it is booming, and that’s what we’re seeing on a global level,” said
Julia Simpson, WTTC’s president and CEO. “It’s worth saying that in 2024, we’re
expecting travel and tourism to reach an all-time high,” said Robinson.

In its study created with Oxford
Economics, WTTC reported travel and tourism will generate a record-breaking year
in 2024, with the sector’s global economic contribution forecast to reach $11.1
trillion, $770 billion over the previous record set in 2019.

“It means that basically about one of
every 10 dollars that are created on this planet come from travel and tourism,”
Robinson said.

The report also found travel and
tourism are responsible for 348 million jobs globally, representing an increase
of over 13.6 million jobs compared with 2019, said Simpson.

“The global population today is
about 333 million,” she said. “So we’re actually employing more people around
the world in our sector that are actually people that reside here in the United

Record travel activity has also resumed
as airline operations return to pre-pandemic levels. “The numbers we use are
from IATA, and the last time I looked, they were at about 90-something percent,”
Simpson said. “But what you might find is there are areas of the world where it’s
not come back.”

Overall, WTTC’s long-term forecasts bode well for global travel activity.

“We look to a 10-year forecast with
Oxford Economics, and we’re forecasting the travel sector will grow to a value
of $16 trillion globally in a decade,” Simpson added. “[Travel] is going to represent 11.4
percent of the world economy and we will be giving employment to 450 million

“The reason I wanted to say that is
that it shows that our sector is going to be growing faster than global GDP. So
we are a growth sector.”

Global tourism’s unprecedented growth
is reflected in the results for the U.S., which Simpson called “the largest
travel and tourism economy globally.”

In 2023, the U.S. experienced a
seven percent growth [rate] in visitors, reflecting a value of $2.36 trillion,
according to WTTC’s data. “That represents 8.6 percent of the U.S. economy,” Simpson

Julia Simpson WTTC CEO

“[Travel] is going to represent 11.4 percent of the world economy and we will be giving employment to 450 million people.” Julia Simpson, WTTC. (Photo Credit: Brian Major)

“We grew by 656,000 jobs
to a total of 18 million jobs in the U.S. That is a record in the history of
travel and tourism, so we’ve actually surpassed 2019.”

Simpson also said travel and tourism in
the United States, “will grow to be worth $2.5 trillion, eleven percent up on
2019,” this year, “and will be employing 19 million [people].”

International visitor spending in
the U.S. represented one of the few areas that WTTC’s report reflected a downturn.
Spending in this area in 2023 was 25 percent behind 2019 levels.

Another area where U.S. travel
continues to struggle is in terms of international visitors, which Simpson said
have not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels. “We do not expect them to
recover to 2019 levels this year; we do expect [the level will resume] next
year,” Robinson said.

She said 75 percent of countries
globally have recovered their 2019 visitor levels. Indeed, several countries
recovered their international visitor numbers as early as two years ago,
observed Simpson, while there’s “definitely a lag,” in the U.S.

“I think one of the issues is that
the dollar is very strong and it does make the Japanese or Chinese visitor feel
it in their pockets,” she said, citing “slightly higher air fares”
and air seat “demand outstripping supply,” as reasons behind the slow
resumption of inbound travel to the U.S.

Simpson also noted the smaller
numbers of Chinese visitors arriving in the country. “Chinese visitors
represent 15 percent of all global spend on travel and tourism, so they are

She added, “You have to remember
some of that is a visa issue, some of it is also [that] China opened last [post-outbreak];
they opened at the beginning of last year and that doesn’t mean everything
moves immediately. They [also] had some issues about reissuing passports, but
certainly we do need to welcome back Chinese travelers.”

WTTC’s membership represents “the
private sector business in travel and tourism,” said Simpson, including CEOs
and big investors in every kind of vertical of our sector that could be
airlines, airports, hotels, OTA, tech companies, cruise and even some financial
institutions that have a big investment in in travel and tourism.”

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