The number of international tourist arrivals is expected to drop sharply this year, the World Tourism Organization said Friday, reversing a previous forecast for a substantial increase.
The United Nations' UNWTO said in a statement that arrivals were now projected to fall by 1.0-3.0 percent in 2020, instead of a previous forecast of growth of 3.0-4.0 percent.
This will lead to an estimated loss of $30-50 billion (29-45 billion euros) in international tourism receipts, the Madrid-based body said.
If confirmed, this will be the first annual decline in the number of international tourist arrivals since 2009 when the global economic crisis hit the travel and tourism sector hard.
"This first assessment expects that Asia and the Pacific will be the worst affected region, with an anticipated fall in arrivals of 9.0 percent to 12.0 percent," the statement said.
"Estimates for other world regions are currently premature in view of the rapidly evolving situation."
The UN body said travel restrictions and flight cancellations had "significantly diminished the supply of travel services while demand continues to retract."
It called for "financial and political support for recovery measures aimed at tourism".
"Small and medium-sized enterprises make up around 80 percent of the tourism sector and are particularly exposed with millions of livelihoods across the world, including within vulnerable communities, relying on tourism," said the head of the body, Zurab Pololikashvili.
International tourism arrivals rose by 4.0 percent in 2019 to 1.5 billion, with France the world's most visited nation, followed by Spain and the United States. They generated around $1.5 trillion in receipts.
The novel coronavirus strain that erupted in China this year and causes the COVID-19 disease has killed more than 3,400 people and infected over 100,000 in about 90 nations.