India climbs to 39th position in WEF’s 2024 tourism index; ranks on top in South Asia

On the global front, international tourist arrivals and the tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels this year, said the report. The top five economies in the 2024 rankings are the United States, Spain, Japan, France, and Australia.

India has ascended to the 39th position in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index (TTDI) for 2024, reflecting a significant recovery in travel after the pandemic. Notably, India was 54th in 2021, but changes in index criteria limit its direct comparison with 2022 and 2023.

The United States leads the global rankings, while India emerges as the top performer in South Asia and among lower-middle-income economies, according to the annual report released on Tuesday. The World Economic Forum (WEF) notes that India has the largest travel and tourism (T&T) sector in South Asia and is the highest-ranking lower-middle-income economy on the TTDI. However, India’s overall TTDI score is still 2.1% below its 2019 level, it said.

WEF acknowledges that China, Japan, and India are recognised as having some of the world’s largest tourism economies, each excelling in natural, cultural, and non-leisure assets.

Out of the top 30 index scorers in 2024, 26 are high-income economies, 19 are based in Europe, seven are in Asia-Pacific, three are in the Americas and one (the United Arab Emirates) is in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). The top 10 countries in the 2024 edition are the United States, Spain, Japan, France, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Italy and Switzerland.

Overall, the Asia-Pacific region is the second-highest performer among global regions. Out of the 19 economies covered by the TTDI in this region, 10 surpass the index average, and 11 have improved their scores since 2019. WEF report says that Japan is the leading performer in the Asia-Pacific, ranking 3rd globally, followed by Australia (5th) and China (8th).

Despite these achievements, the Asia-Pacific region experienced the largest average decline in TTDI scores between 2021 and 2024 (-0.7%). This is attributed to delayed easing of travel restrictions, challenges in restoring air route capacity, and sector investment as per WEF.

Nonetheless, between 2021 and 2024, the APAC region experienced the largest average decline in TTDI scores (-0.7%) as it lagged in loosening travel restrictions and has struggled to recover air route capacity and sector investment. Consequently, the region experienced the only decline in average scores for Air Transport Infrastructure (-1.6%) since 2021 and the greatest decline in Tourist Services and Infrastructure (-4.4%).

Notably, the robust economic and middle-class growth in the Asia-Pacific, combined with rich natural, cultural, and non-leisure resources, have historically driven rapid travel demand growth, the report mentions.

Global Scenario:

International tourist arrivals and the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to global GDP are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels this year, spurred by the lifting of COVID-19 travel restrictions and strong pent-up demand, according to the WEF study. The top five economies in the 2024 rankings are the United States, Spain, Japan, France, and Australia.

The Middle East saw the highest recovery rates in international tourist arrivals (20% above 2019 levels), while Europe, Africa, and the Americas demonstrated strong recovery, nearing 90% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

While the travel and tourism sector has largely overcome the pandemic’s impact, it faces ongoing challenges from macroeconomic, geopolitical, and environmental risks, to increasing scrutiny of sustainability practices and the influence of new digital technologies like big data and artificial intelligence.

Additionally, labour shortages persist, and the sector struggles to match supply with increased demand due to lagging air route capacity, capital investment, and productivity. This imbalance, exacerbated by global inflation, has led to higher prices and service issues.

On the other end, the developing countries have shown notable improvements recently, said WEF. China remains in the top 10 among upper-middle-income economies, while emerging travel and tourism destinations like Indonesia, Brazil, and Türkiye have joined China in the top quartile of the rankings.

Overall, low- to upper-middle-income economies account for over 70% of countries with improved scores since 2019. MENA and sub-Saharan Africa are among the most improved regions, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE being the only high-income economies among the top 10 most improved between 2019 and 2024.

Despite these advancements, the TTDI highlights the need for substantial investment to bridge gaps in enabling conditions and market share between developing and high-income countries.

The sector can play a significant role in addressing the issues. To achieve this, decision-makers should prioritise actions such as leveraging tourism for nature conservation efforts; investing in skilled, inclusive and resilient workforces; strategically managing visitor behaviour and infrastructure development; encouraging cultural exchange between visitors and local communities; and using the sector to bridge the digital divide, among other policies.

If managed strategically, the travel and tourism sector – which has historically represented 10% of global GDP and employment – has the potential to emerge as a key contributor to the well-being and prosperity of communities worldwide.