The fresh wave of tourism that has mounted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has yet to translate into a new investment cycle for the whole industry as operators replenish existing capacity in developed markets and reassess risk exposure in developing economies.
The Tourism Investment Report 2022, fDi’s annual special report tracking investment activity in the tourism industry, based on fDi Markets proprietary data and co-produced with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), finds that foreign investors announced a total of 250 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the tourism cluster in 2021, worth about $9.5bn. This is down from the 271 projects worth $17bn announced in 2020.
Despite continuous subdued investment levels, “the sector has been showing clear signs of recovery,” Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the UNWTO writes in the report. “This is expected to continue throughout the rest of 2022 as more destinations ease or lift travel restrictions, and pent-up demand is unleashed.”
UNWTO data show that worldwide tourist arrivals increased by 5.3% in 2021 from the previous year, and were almost three times higher in the first quarter of 2022 as they were in the first quarter of 2021.
Major stakeholders in the tourism ecosystem are already reaping the benefits. Budget airline Ryanair has smashed pre-Covid passenger records in the quarter from April to June. In the same period, booking platforms Booking.com and Airbnb also exceeded the financial results achieved in the same period of 2019.
However, the outlook remains “fragile”, as Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary put it, in light of the current geopolitical and supply chain risks, and capital expenditure plans remain on hold across the industry.
Although absolute figures remain far from pre-Covid levels, a few regions have already experienced early signs of an investment recovery. Foreign investors announced more than twice as many investment projects in Africa in 2021 as they did the previous year. Project announcements in the Middle East and Western Europe also increased by 66.7% and 19.2% respectively.
However, China’s zero-Covid policy has crippled any recovery prospective in the Asia-Pacific region, where announced FDI projects fell by another 60% in 2021 from the previous year. Emerging Europe also experienced weak investment levels in 2021 – announced FDI projects decreased by 60% in 2021 from 2020.
Worldwide, hotel developers remained conservative with their greenfield FDI commitments, with projects in the sub-sector falling to 115, from 172 in 2020 and 522 in 2019. While also remaining below 2019 levels, FDI projects announced by tourism digital services providers rebounded to 61 in 2021, up from 44 the previous year as innovation and new technologies such as artificial intelligence disrupt functions once provided by legacy players like marketing, booking services and customer relationship management providers.
US hotel powerhouse Marriott confirmed itself as the single largest foreign investor in the tourism cluster, followed by Hyatt International and Travel + Leisure Co (formerly known as Wyndham Destinations). Selina remains the only Latin American hotel group in the top 10. Accor, InterContinental Hotels Group, Barcelo, Melia Hotels International and TUI Group round out the top 10 from Europe while Minor International is the only representative from the Asia-Pacific region.