World tourism is up nearly 7 percent over 2009, U.N. says

International tourism recovered strongly in 2010 according to the advance release of the U.N. World Tourism Barometer. International tourist arrivals were up by almost 7 percent to 935 million, following the 4 percent decline in 2009 – the year hardest hit by the global economic crisis. The vast majority of destinations worldwide posted positive figures, sufficient to offset recent losses or bring them close to this target. However, recovery came at different speeds and was primarily driven by emerging economies.

Boosted by improved economic conditions worldwide, international tourism has recovered faster than expected from the impacts of the global financial crisis and economic recession of late 2008 and 2009. International tourist arrivals were up by 6.7 percent compared to 2009, with positive growth reported in all world regions. Worldwide, the number of international tourist arrivals reached 935 million, up 58 million from 2009 and 22 million more than the pre-crisis peak level of 2008 (913 million).

While all regions posted growth in international tourist arrivals, emerging economies remain the main drivers of this recovery. This multi-speed recovery, lower in advanced economies (+5 percent), faster in emerging ones (+8 percent), is a reflection of the broader global economic situation and is set to dominate 2011 and the foreseeable future, the U.N. agency said.

“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, secretary general of the World Tourism Organization. “The challenge now will be to consolidate this growth over the coming years amid a still uncertain global economic environment”.

Asia (+13 percent) was the first region to recover and the
strongest growing region in 2010. International tourist arrivals into Asia reached a new record at 204 million last year, up from 181 million in 2009. Africa (+6 percent to 49 million), the only region to show positive figures in 2009, maintained growth during 2010, benefiting from increasing economic dynamism and the hosting of events such as the soccer World Cup in South Africa. Results returned to double digits in the Middle East (+14 percent to 60 million) where almost all destinations grew by 10 percent or more.

In Europe (+3 percent to 471 million) recovery was slower than in other regions due to the air traffic disruption caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano and the economic uncertainty affecting the euro zone. However, the sector gained momentum from the second half of the year and some individual countries performed well above the regional average, but this was not sufficient to bring overall results above the losses of 2009.

The Americas (+8 percent to 151 million) rebounded from the decline in 2009 brought on by the economic hardship suffered in North America and the impact of the influenza outbreak. The return to growth in the U.S. economy has helped improve the region’s results as a whole, as did the increasing regional integration in Central and South America and the vitality of Latin American economies. Growth was strongest in South America (+10 percent).

Following a year of global recovery in 2010, growth is expected to continue for the tourism sector in 2011 but at a slower pace. World Tourism forecasts international tourist arrivals to grow at between 4 percent to 5 percent in 2011, a rate slightly above the long-term average.

Persistent high unemployment remains a major concern, with the gradual recovery in employment expected for 2011 still too weak to compensate for the jobs lost during the economic crisis, the organization said.

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