International Tourism Recovers in 2010, Set to Grow in 2011

International tourism made a strong comeback in 2010 and is primed for more growth in 2011, according to the Advance Release of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. International tourist arrivals went up by 7 percent following a 4 percent drop in 2009. Most destinations worldwide posted increases in visitors large enough to offset losses they had suffered in recent years.

"The recovery in international tourism is good news, especially for those developing countries that rely on the sector for much-needed revenue and jobs," said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary general. "The challenge now will be to consolidate this growth over the coming years amid a still uncertain global economic environment."

Growth Expected in 2011

The recovery is expected to continue in 2011 at a slightly slower pace, according to the World Tourism Organization. Arrivals are slated to grow at a rate of 4 percent to 5 percent this year, which remains above the globe's long-term average.

Challenges to the projected growth include high unemployment in some of the  nations responsible for generating international travelers and the recent trend of taxing travel.

"While we fully understand the need for fiscal consolidation, UNWTO will continue to alert governments to the fact that these taxes seriously affect tourism's proven capacity to stimulate job creation and economic growth, impacting negatively on their own economies and on the development possibilities of emerging economies," Rifai said.

2010 at a Glance

All of the world's regions posted growth in the number of international tourist arrivals, but emerging economies were the main drivers of the tourism recovery. Advanced economies reported growth of about 5 percent, compared to the 8 percent uptick reported in emerging nations.

Despite the relative sag in Europe (up 3 percent), bullish growth in the Asian (plus 13 percent) and North and South American (up 8 percent) markets vaulted the worldwide number of tourist arrivals to 935 million, 22 million more than the pre-crisis peak of 2008.

International tourism demand held up in 2010 despite economic or political uncertainty in several markets and multiple natural disasters. So-called "mega-events" such as the Winter Olympics, the Shanghai Expo, the FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games helped drive arrivals to Canada, China, South Africa and India, respectively.

Top countries included China (up 17 percent) Brazil (plus-52 percent) and Saudi Arabia (growth of 28 percent). One major country to lose international visitors year-to-year was the UK, which saw its arrivals fall by 4 percent.