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International Tourism Exceeds 2008 Record Levels

November 9, 2010 By: Melanie Gretchen

British Virgin IslandsThe October Issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer showed international tourism is set for recovery, as the number of arrivals in the first eight months of the year surpassed the record set during the same period in 2008. The organization's findings follow last year's 4.2 percent decrease in arrivals last year as a result of the economic climate.

Between this year's January and August, 642 million arrivals were logged worldwide, 40 million during the same time period in 2009 (in an increase of 7 percent) and 1 million more than the same period in the record year of 2008. The organization estimated international tourist arrivals will continue to increase by five to six percent over the full year, as well as four percent in 2011.

Emerging Destinations Lead Growth, Europe Recovers Slowly

Several trends have become apparent. First of all, growth has occurred across the board. Leading progress through August, however, are emerging economies at a rate of 8 percent ahead of the rate of 5 percent by advanced economies. During the summer, July and August saw 112 million and 108 million respectively in international arrivals. Together, the number is an 8 million increase over 2008 and an increase of 12 million compared to 2009. Topping the last eight months were March (a 9 percent increase), May (up 11 percent) and June (also up 9 percent), while April reported the least growth (two percent increase), following Iceland's volcano ash cloud.

Through August 2010, Asia and the Pacific reported the most growth in 14 percent, 10 million more than 2008. In the Middle East, an increase of 16 percent was reported compared to last year. Africa saw an increase of 9 percent, benefited by the FIFA World Football Cup, hosted by South Africa.

The Americas together reported an eight percent increase, with North and Central America having increased 9 percent each. South America matched the worldwide average at seven percent, compared to the Caribbean, which increased by 3 percent.

Although Europe suffered from its uneven economic recovery and the effect of April's ash cloud in Iceland, from May to August, Western Europe increased by 4 percent, Southern and Mediterranean Europe by 2 percent and Central and Eastern Europe also by 4 percent. Pulling the region's average down, Northern Europe is the only sub-region in the world to have decreased, by 3 percent.

International Tourism Expenditure

As is often the case, international tourism receipts have been delayed. The top 10 markets currently include Germany (up 1.5 percent), the United States (up 2.5 percent), France (up 2 percent), Italy (up 3 percent) and Japan (up 8 percent). Continuing a pattern visible over the last few years, emerging economies lead the market growth and tourism expenditure abroad, with China up by 22 percent, Russia with a 26 percent increase and Brazil up 54 percent.

Risk Factors and Solutions

Two remarkable risk factors in advanced economies include budget constraints to balance public deficits in main source markets and unemployment. The International Labour Organization (ILO) projected the job crisis will continue through 2015. Recently, UNWTO identified tourism as a potential contributor to improving unemployment, as jobs created by tourism have tended to outgrow compared to other sectors.

Looking Ahead Through 2010 and 2011

Improvement throughout the rest of the year can be reflected in the the increase of the UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index, whereby a majority of the members of the UNWTO Panel Experts rated the past eight months of 2010 as "better" or "much better." Prospects for the period from September to December have continued to improve, up for the fifth consecutive period compared to a year ago.

Among the 50 countries that have returned with their September figures, tourism has appeared to maintain its progress. The year's last quarter will level out in growth, matching last year's quarter of 2009. If international tourist arrivals reach their projected increase of five to six percent for the full year of 2010, they will pass 2009's total by up to 50 million and 2008's record of up to 10 million.

An excerpt of the upcoming issue is available at UNWTO has released Tourism Highlights at


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