International tourism continues to rise around the world, with only the Middle East and North Africa lagging, and even those regions are expected to improve later this year, according to the latest United Nations figures.
The World Tourism Barometer, released by the UN World Tourism Organization at its headquarters in Madrid, shows that international tourist arrivals rose by 4.5 per cent in the first four months of this year compared to the same period of 2010.
About 268 million tourists travelled between January and April, up from 256 million last year, which was affected by the closure of much of European airspace because of the ash cloud resulting from the eruption of an Icelandic volcano.
Regions around the world recorded strong year-on-year growth, led by South America (up 17 per cent), South Asia (up 14 per cent) and Southeast Asia (up 10 per cent).
But the political and social unrest in the Middle East and North Africa led to falls of 7 per cent and 11 per cent in those regions.
Taleb Rifai, tourism organization secretary general, said those regions, and other destinations facing difficulties, such as Japan in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami in March, should see demand recover towards the end of the year.
“It is time to support those destinations and help their tourism sectors to rebound, contributing to overall economic and social stability and progress,” Rifai said.
He warned that high rates of unemployment and the introduction of austerity measures in some countries could have a dampening effect on international tourism.
Rifai said that tourist operators and industry experts were nevertheless upbeat about the short-term outlook for international tourism, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, where the peak summer season has started.