With a record 467 million tourists traveling in the first half of 2012, international tourism is on track to reach 1 billion tourists by the end of the year. Despite concerns over the global economy, international tourism demand continues to show resilience. The number of international tourists worldwide grew by 5 percent between January and June 2012 compared to the same period of 2011 (22 million more). Although a slight slowdown in growth can be expected for the rest of the year, international arrivals are forecast to exceed 1 billion by the end of 2012.
"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 Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the U.N. World Tourism Organization, opening the Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macao. "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."
International arrivals were up in all regions between January and June. Asia and the Pacific (+8 percent) led growth by region, boosted by the recovery of Japanese inbound and outbound tourism as well as by the continued strong performance of other major source markets throughout the region. Destinations in South Asia and South-East Asia (both +9 percent) 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 percent), 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 percent) where many destinations saw double-digit growth, as well as in Western Europe (+5 percent). By contrast, demand in Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+1 percent) slowed down, but on top of a very strong 2011, and partly due to the recovery of destinations in North Africa and the Middle East.
The Americas (+5 percent) grew in line with the world average, with Central America (+7 percent) and South America (+6 percent) recording the strongest results. In fact, South America has been one of the sub-regions with the fastest tourism growth of recent years. Destinations in North America grew at 4 percent, a relatively high rate for a mature sub-region, while growth in the Caribbean (+5 percent) remained buoyant, consolidating 2011 results.
In Africa (+7 percent), the return of tourist flows to Tunisia is reflected in the results of North Africa (+11 percent). Likewise, the rebound of Egypt is clearly mirrored in the results of the Middle East (+0.7 percent). Destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa (+6 percent) continued to show strong results, following the good growth rates of this sub-region in previous years.
In terms of outbound markets, and among the top 10 countries by expenditure on travel abroad, growth was significant in China (+30 percent), the Russian Federation (+15 percent), U.S. (+9 percent), Germany (+6 percent) and Canada (+6 percent) .
In Japan, an 8 percent increase in spending on overseas tourism confirms the recovery of this important market. On the other hand, growth was comparatively slow or negative in the U.K., Australia, Italy and France.