INTERNATIONAL tourist arrivals grew by over four per cent in 2011 to 980 million, according to the World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) latest World Tourism Barometer.
With growth expected to continue in 2012, at a somewhat slower rate, international tourist arrivals are on track to reach the milestone one billion mark later this year.
International tourist arrivals grew by 4.4 per cent in 2011 to a total 980 million, up from 939 million in 2010, in a year characterised by a stalled global economic recovery, major political changes in the Middle East and North Africa and natural disasters in Japan.
By region, Europe (six per cent) was the best performer, while by sub region South-America (10 per cent) topped the ranking. Contrary to previous years, growth was higher in advanced economies (five per cent) than in emerging ones (3.8 per cent), largely due to the strong results in Europe, and the setbacks in the Middle East and North Africa.
“International tourism hit new records in 2011 despite the challenging conditions,” says UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai. “For a sector directly responsible for five per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), six per cent of total exports and employing one out of every 12 people in advanced and emerging economies alike these results are encouraging, coming as they do at a time in which we urgently need levers to stimulate growth and job creation,” he adds.
Despite persistent economic uncertainty, tourist arrivals to Europe reached 503 million in 2011, accounting for 28 million of the 41 million additional international arrivals recorded worldwide. Central and Eastern Europe and Southern Mediterranean destinations (eight per cent each) experienced the best results. Although part of the growth in Southern Mediterranean Europe resulted from a shift in traffic away from the Middle East and North Africa, destinations in the Mediterranean also profited from improved outbound flows from markets such as Scandinavia, Germany and the Russian Federation.
Asia and the Pacific (six per cent) were up 11 million arrivals in 2011, reaching a total 216 million international tourists. South Asia and South-East Asia (nine per cent) benefited from strong intra-regional demand, while growth was comparatively weaker in North-East Asia (four per cent) and Oceania (0.3 per cent), partly due to the temporary decline in the Japanese outbound market.
The Americas (four per cent) saw an increase of six million arrivals, reaching 156 million in total. South America, up by 10 per cent for the second consecutive year, continued to lead growth while Central America and the Caribbean (both over four per cent) maintained the growth rates of 2010. North America, with a three per cent increase, hit the 100 million tourists mark in 2011.
Africa maintained international arrivals at 50 million, as the gain of two million by Sub-Saharan destinations (over seven per cent) was offset by the losses in North Africa (-12 per cent). The Middle East (down by eight per cent) lost an estimated five million international tourist arrivals, totalling 55 million. Nevertheless, some destinations such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE sustained steady growth.
Available data on international tourism receipts and expenditure for 2011 closely follows the positive trend in arrivals. Among the top ten tourist destinations, receipts were up significantly in the US (12 per cent), Spain (nine per cent), Hong Kong (China) (25 per cent) and the UK (seven per cent). The top spenders were led by emerging source markets – China (38 per cent), Russia (21 per cent), Brazil (32 per cent) and India (32 per cent) – followed by traditional markets, with the growth in expenditure of travellers from Germany (four per cent) and the US (five per cent) above the levels of previous years.
UNWTO forecasts international tourism to continue growing in 2012 although at a slower rate. Arrivals are expected to increase by three to four per cent, reaching the historic one billion mark by the end of the year. Emerging economies will regain the lead with stronger growth in Asia and the Pacific and Africa (four per cent to six per cent), followed by the Americas and Europe (two per cent to four per cent). The Middle East (zero to five per cent) is forecast to start to recover part of its losses from 2011.
As destinations worldwide look to stimulate travel demand under pressing economic conditions, UNWTO is urging governments to consider advancing travel facilitation, an area in which in spite of the great strides made so far there is still much room for progress. UNWTO advises countries to make the most of information and communication technologies in improving visa application and processing formalities, as well as the timings of visa issuance, and to analyse the possible impact of travel facilitation in increasing their tourism economies.