International tourism arrivals remain on track to reach the one billion mark by the end of year, according to the UNWTO.
According to its half-year results, a record 467m tourists travelled across international borders in the first six months of 2012 – up 5% year-on-year. With the summer and Christmas peak seasons still unaccounted for, full-year arrivals are expected to break the one billion barrier for the first time in history.
“Amid the current economic uncertainty, tourism is one of the few economic sectors in the world growing strongly, driving economic progress in developing and developed countries alike and, most importantly, creating much needed jobs,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, at the opening of the Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau.
“As we lead up to the milestone of one billion, we need to ensure that the tourism sector is supported by adequate national policies and that we work to reduce existing barriers to the expansion of the sector, such as complicated visa procedures, increased direct taxation or limited connectivity,” he added.
The Asia Pacific region (+8%) led the global growth, boosted by the recovery of Japanese tourism and other major source markets throughout the region. Destinations in South Asia and Southeast Asia (both +9%) showed some of the best results worldwide.
“Although Asia was affected by the economic crisis of 2008-2009 due to its strong linkages with other economies, the region has bounced back quickly and is today a leader in the global economy. This is clearly reflected in its tourism figures,” said Rifai.
Europe (+4%) – the most visited destination in the world – consolidated its record growth of 2011, despite continuing economic volatility in the eurozone. Results were above the regional average in Central and Eastern Europe (+7%), while Western Europe (+5%) also saw strong growth. By contrast, demand in Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+1%) slowed, partly due to the recovery of destinations in North Africa and the Middle East.
The Americas (+5%) grew in line with the world average, with Central America (+7%) and South America (+6%) outpacing North America (+4%), while growth in the Caribbean (+5%) remained buoyant.
In Africa (+7%), the return of tourists to Tunisia is reflected a strong rebound in North Africa (+11%), although the Middle East (+0.7%) recovery was more subdued. Destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa (+6%) continued to show strong results.
In terms of outbound markets, China (+30%) continued to be one of the biggest drivers of global travel. Other major markets such as Russia (+15%), the US (+9%), Germany (+6%) and Canada (+6%) also saw strong outbound growth, but the UK, Australia, Italy and France saw slower tourism flows. In Japan, an 8% increase in overseas tourism spending reflected greater confidence in the market.