Purpose: This study aims to propose and estimate the urban tourism performance index (UTPI), an index that can measure and track the month-by-month tourism performance on main tourism cities since the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UTPI is estimated for the following urban destinations: Bangkok, Paris, London, Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Istanbul, Tokyo, Seoul, Osaka, Phuket, Milan, Barcelona, Bali and Hong Kong. Design/methodology/approach: Monthly based data measuring the tourism industry’s performance for these urban destinations has been collected. This data includes airlines’ and hotels’ performance, as well as potential tourists’ online searches. The obtained data has been combined using a principal component analysis, generating the UTPI. Findings: The UTPI shows that all urban areas analyzed in this study experienced a devastating negative impact because of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. However, the tourism recovery evolution follows heterogeneous patterns. Research limitations/implications: The proposed index can be estimated using additional variables. Moreover, the index is only estimated for 16 tourism cities. Future studies can reproduce the methodology by incorporating further variables and amplifying the geographical coverage. Practical implications: The UTPI might be useful for researchers and policymakers interested in using a measure of tourism performance during the COVID-19 pandemic in some of the most important urban destinations. Likewise, the UTPI index may serve as a suitable aggregated measure of tourism performance in a post-COVID-19 era or to monitor tourism during future crises. Originality/value: This study analyzes the tourism performance during the COVID-19 pandemic from an urban perspective.