Asia and the Middle East lead growth
International tourist arrivals are estimated to have grown by 7% in the first half of 2010. While growth was modest in April as a consequence of the closure of European airspace following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland, results were strong in May (+10%) and June (+8%). Data available for July indicates that growth is set to continue at a steady rate.
Growth was positive in all world regions, led by a robust performance of emerging economies expanding at 8% compared to 6% in advanced economies. Asia and the Pacific (+14%) and the Middle East (+20%), where results were already positive in the second half of 2009, continue to lead growth in the first half of 2010 with the majority of destinations in both regions posting double digit growth rates.
Asia in particular is experiencing a very dynamic rebound, with strong results from Sri Lanka (+49%), Japan (+36%), Vietnam (+35%), Myanmar (+35%), Hong Kong (China) (+23%), Macao (China) (+23%), Singapore (+23%), Fiji (+22%) and the Maldives (+21%). Thailand (+14%) posted encouraging results in spite of the political unrest early this year. As in previous occasions, such as the Asian financial and economic crisis (1997-1998), the SARS outbreak (2003), and the tsunami (2004), Asia has once again shown a strong capacity for recovery. International tourism has been a driving force in a region - currently the second most visited region in the world,- with 181 million international tourist arrivals (21% of world total) and international tourism receipts of US$ 204 billion (24% of world total) in 2009.
In the Americas (+7%), Central and South America show steady growth, as does North America. Growth has been slower in the Caribbean but results are still markedly improved as compared to 2008 and 2009. Europe (+2%) shows the slowest recovery but results from recent months are slightly more positive. Although recovery has not yet returned to Northern Europe, both Western and Southern Mediterranean Europe show reasonable growth. Africa (+7%), the only region to grow in 2009, maintained this momentum during the first half of 2010.
International tourism receipts are expected to lag somewhat behind arrivals in many destinations. Following major shocks, volume (arrivals) tends to recover faster than income (receipts) as travellers travel closer to home, for shorter periods of time and seek value for money, while on the supply side increased competition has been driving prices down. This was also the case following the Asian economic and financial crisis and after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks.
UNWTO forecasts continued growth but risks remain
Overall, international tourist arrivals totalled 421 million during the first six months of 2010, up 7% on 2009, but still 2% below that of the record year of 2008 (428 million arrivals in the same period). These results follow one of the toughest years for the tourism sector with international tourist arrivals declining by 4.2% in 2009 to 880 million and international tourism receipts reaching US$ 852 billion (€611 billion), a decrease in real terms of 5.7%. The return of growth must be thus viewed with caution given that it compares with a very weak period of 2009.
Nevertheless, many destinations are setting new records, leaving behind the losses of 2009 and exceeding the 2008 levels. Compared to the first half of 2008, six sub-regions show growth: Sub-Saharan Africa (+16%), North Africa (+12%), North-East Asia (+7%), South Asia (+7%), South-East Asia (+5%) and South America (+4%).
For 2010, UNWTO maintains its initial forecast of international tourist arrivals growing by 3% to 4%. Current growth rates, coupled with an improving global economic environment suggest that end-year results are likely to be closer to 4%, and may even exceed this figure.
However, high unemployment continues to be a major cause of concern and the austerity measures as well as the rise in taxation implemented in several advanced economies to fight public deficits represent a clear challenge to many leading outbound markets.
“Although we are witnessing a clear recovery in international tourism, we must remain cautious,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai in Madrid. “In many advanced economies, namely in the USA and in some major European markets, economic recovery has still to consolidate. To this we must add the recent introduction and increase in taxation, most specifically those which directly impact the tourism sector, such as air transport taxes. While we fully understand the need to balance public accounts, one-sided decisions on taxation risk adversely impacting a sector with a proven track record for job creation and economic growth, as one of the major generators of exports earnings and income sources for developing countries, which are crucial to a stable economic recovery.”
Regional and domestic tourism key to growth
The August Interim Update was presented at the 4th UNWTO/PATA Forum on Tourism Trends and Outlook (Guilin, China), held under the theme Domestic and Regional Tourism: Issues, Opportunities and Prospects.
A large majority of international travel takes place within the traveller’s own region, with around four out of five arrivals worldwide originating from the same region. The remarkable rebound of Asia is to a large extent a reflection of the strength of the regional outbound markets. Domestic tourism is of equal importance. Worldwide the number of domestic arrivals is estimated to exceed some four times the number of international arrivals.
“With consumers tending to travel closer to home in times of downturns, domestic tourism has been experiencing significant growth,” said UNWTO Executive Director, Márcio Favilla, presenting the Update at the Forum in Guilin, China. “Coupled with regional tourism, domestic tourism can thus serve as an important driver of development and growth, in particular during times of economic uncertainty. China is an excellent example of how to foster domestic tourism,” he added.
Many countries promote actively to tap into these markets with festivals, events and special years, such as the Visit Japan Year 2010 and the Nepal Tourism Year 2011. In terms of large events, prime examples include the FIFA World Cup in South Africa last June and the Shanghai 2010 Expo, being held from May to October, and strongly boosting both domestic and inbound tourism. At the beginning of September, four months after opening, almost 50 million visitors have been counted, and close to half a million visitors are recorded each day.