World tourism reaches record level in first half of 2011

nternational tourism grew by almost 5 percent in the first half of 2011 reaching a new record of 440 million arrivals. Results confirm that, in spite of multiple challenges, international tourism continues to consolidate the return to growth initiated in 2010.

International tourist arrivals are estimated to have grown by 4.5 percent in the first half of 2011, consolidating the 6.6 percent increase registered in 2010. Between January and June of this year, the total number of arrivals reached 440 million, 19 million more than in the same period of 2010.

Growth in advanced economies (+4.3 percent) has maintained strength and is closing the gap with emerging economies (+4.8 percent), which have been driving international tourism growth in recent years. This trend reflects the decreases registered in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as a slight slowdown in the growth of some Asian destinations following a very strong 2010.

“The sustained growth registered in tourism demand in such challenging times clearly makes the case for the sector and reinforces our call to consider tourism as a priority in national policies. Tourism can play a key role in terms of economic growth and development, particularly at a moment when many economies, for the most part in Europe and North America, struggle for recovery and job creation,” said Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

All world subregions showed positive trends with the exception of the Middle East and North Africa. Results were better than expected in Europe (+6 percent ), boosted by the recovery of Northern Europe (+7 percent) and Central and Eastern Europe (+9 percent), and the temporary redistribution of travel to destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+7 percent) due to developments in North Africa (-13 percent) and the Middle East (-11 percent). Sub-Saharan Africa (+9 percent) continued to perform soundly.

The Americas (+6 percent) was slightly above the world
average, with remarkably strong results for South America (+15 percent). Asia and the Pacific grew at a comparatively slower pace of 5 percent, but this more than consolidates its 13 percent bumper growth of 2010.

Results from recent months show that destinations such as Egypt, Tunisia or Japan are seeing declines in demand clearly reverting. “We are very encouraged to see demand picking up in such important tourism destinations and call for continued support to these countries which are today fully ready to receive travelers from all over the world,” added Rifai.

So far, the growth of international tourism arrivals is very much in line with the initial forecast issued by the World Tourism Organization at the beginning of 2011, 4 percent to 5 percent, for the full year 2011, a rate slightly above the 4 percent long-term average.

As international tourism receipts were more affected by the 2008-2009 crisis and recovered somewhat slower than arrivals in 2010, this year should also see their further improvement.

Following an encouraging first half of 2011, growth in the remainder of the year is expected to soften somewhat as recent months have brought increased uncertainty, hampering business and consumer confidence.

“We must remain cautious as the global economy is showing signs of increased volatility,” said Mr. Rifai. “Many advanced economies still face risks posed by weak growth, fiscal problems and persistently high unemployment. Simultaneously, signs of overheating have become apparent in some emerging economies. Restoring sustained and balanced economic growth remains a major task”.

Following the decline registered in 2009, one of the most challenging years for international tourism in decades, the sector rebounded strongly in 2010.

International tourist arrivals were up 6.6 percent to 940 million and international tourism receipts grew by 4.7 percent in real terms to reach $919 billion.

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