The number of international tourists increased by 4% in 2012, passing the 1 billion mark for the first time according to figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
An additional 39 million tourists compared to 2011 took the total number to 1.035 billion, an impressive figure for a year in which economic volatility hung over many parts of the world. Figures for Heathrow’s traffic, released last month, showed how financial volatility can deter tourism, with several major European destinations suffering large traffic decreases following large-scale financial difficulties.
Asia and the Pacific was the best performing region of the world (as it was in the Heathrow figures), seeing an average year-on-year increase of 7%. South-East Asia and North Africa were the top-performing sub-regions, each growing by 9%; whilst Central and Eastern Europe completed the top three with 8% growth. The UNTWO did however issue a caveat alongside the North African figures which, at least partially, are influenced by the Arab Spring, which was cited as having a serious negative impact on the 2011 figures.
Europe remains the most visited region of the world, with 535 million visitors; however its growth was only 3% more than 2011, down on the previous year’s growth of 6%.
Teleb Rifai, the UNWTO secretary general, said: “2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone. Yet international tourism managed to stay on course.
“The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013. Tourism is thus one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world as part of the solution to stimulating economic growth.”
Forecasts for international tourism in 2013 are predicated to be broadly similar to 2012, if slightly more modest. Current UNWTO estimates are for growth by a further 3-4%, whilst the long-term forecast, for average annual rise between 2010 and 2020, remains unchanged at 3.8%.