International Tourism: First Results of 2010 Confirm Upward Trend

Good news! In a strong sign that the travel industry is continuing to recover from, what some call, The Great Recession, the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer reports that international tourism is steadily gaining momentum following an extremely challenging 2009. International tourist arrivals grew by 7 percent in the first two months of 2010 worldwide. This follows the upturn already registered in the last quarter of 2009 when arrivals grew by 2 percent after 14 consecutive months of negative results. UNWTO forecasts international tourist arrivals to grow by 3 percent to 4 percent in 2010.

Growth was particularly strong in Asia (+10 percent), Africa (+7 percent) and the Middle East. The pace of growth was slower in Europe (+3 percent) and in the Americas (+3 percent), the two regions hardest hit by the global crisis and where economic recovery is proving to be comparatively weaker.  A large number of countries around the world reported positive results in the first months of 2010.

Of the 77 destinations reporting data for this period, 60 showed positive figures, of which 24 posted double-digit growth including Estonia, Israel, Hong Kong, Macao, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Guam, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, U.S. Virgin Islands, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Kenya, Seychelles, Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Though there is a clear improvement on the negative results of 2009, this growth must be considered with caution as it compares with a particularly weak period of 2009  the worst months of the global economic crisis. On the whole, international tourist arrivals totalled 119 million during the first two months of 2010,  which is still 2 percent below the value of the record year of 2008.

This outlook has not been altered by the recent air traffic disruption in European airspace. Although impacting very seriously on travellers, specific destinations and companies, in particular airlines, airports and tour operators, UNWTO estimates that the closure of a major part of European airspace between April 15-20 might have caused a loss of less than half a per cent of the yearly volume of international tourist arrivals in Europe and 0.3 percent of the total count for the world.

Nevertheless, while the positive trend registered in the first months of 2010 reflects improved economic conditions, UNWTO warns that many challenges remain.

“Although economic results have improved significantly in recent months with a positive impact on tourism demand we must remain cautious as many factors can still jeopardize the pace of recovery”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai today at the opening of the UNWTO Seminar on Tourism Governance In Times Of Crisis: Conjunctural and Structural Policies. “The economic recovery is being driven mainly by emerging economies while growth is still sluggish in most advanced ones. At the same time, increasing unemployment levels in major tourism source markets is a cause of concern.”

In 2009, international tourism receipts are estimated to have reached $852 billion worldwide, down from $942 billion in the previous year. In real terms (adjusted for exchange rate fluctuations and inflation) international tourism receipts decreased by 6 percent as compared to a 4 percent decline in arrivals, showing the close relation between both indicators. Experience suggests that in times of crisis revenues tend to be more affected than arrivals as was the case for the year 2009.

The top 10 ranking by international tourism spenders shows one noticeable change in 2009 with China overtaking France to take fourth position in the ranking of international tourism spenders. Chinese expenditure on international tourism has been the fastest to grow in the last decade, up from seventh position only in 2005. Even during last year’s crisis, tourism expenditure by China increased by 21 percent.

There were no major changes in the rankings of the first 10 destinations by international tourist arrivals and receipts in 2009. France, the U.S. and Spain continue to be leaders in both arrivals and receipts, albeit in a different order. France continues to lead the ranking of the world’s major tourism destinations in terms of arrivals and ranks third in receipts. The U.S. ranks first in receipts and second in arrivals. Spain maintains its position as the second biggest earner worldwide and the first in Europe, and ranks third in arrivals. In 2009, both Turkey and Germany climbed one position in the ranking of arrivals to seventh and eighth places, respectively. In arrivals, Malaysia entered the top 10 in 2009 at ninth place.

A comprehensive analysis of international tourism trends will be included in the next full version of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer scheduled for end of June.

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