International tourism remains robust on global scale, but clear regional variations

Destinations around the world welcomed 956 million international tourists between January and September 2016, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. This is 34 million more than in the same period of 2015, a four percent increase.

Demand for international tourism remained robust in the first nine months of 2016, though growing at a somewhat more moderate pace. After a strong start of the year, growth was slower in the second quarter of 2016 to pick up again in the third quarter of the year. While most destinations report encouraging results, others continue to struggle with the impact of negative events, either in their country or in their region.

“Tourism is one of the most resilient and fastest-growing economic sectors but it is also very sensitive to risks, both actual and perceived. As such, the sector must continue to work together with governments and stakeholders to minimise risks, respond effectively and build confidence among travellers,” said Taleb Rifai, secretary general, UNWTO.

“No destination is immune to risks. We need to increase cooperation in addressing these global threats, namely those related to safety and security. And we need to make tourism an integral part of emergency planning and response”, added Rifai ahead of a Ministerial Meeting on Safe, Secure and Seamless Travel at the World Travel Market in London this week.

Although at the global level demand remains strong, Rifai noted that real crises are often magnified or distorted by misperception and affected destinations are facing important challenges. “We need to support these countries in restoring confidence, as doing so will benefit the entire tourism sector and society as a whole,” he added.

Asia and the Pacific led growth across world regions, with international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) up nine percent through September. All four sub-regions shared in this growth. Many destinations reported double-digit growth, with the Republic of Korea (+34 percent), Vietnam (+36 percent), Japan (+24 percent) and Sri Lanka (+15 percent) in the lead.

In Europe, international arrivals grew by a lower two percent between January and September 2016, with solid growth in most destinations. Nonetheless, double-digit increases in major destinations such as Spain, Hungary, Portugal and Ireland were offset by feeble results in France, Belgium and Turkey. As a consequence, Northern Europe grew by six percent and Central and Eastern Europe by five percent while results were weaker in Western Europe (-1 percent) and Southern Mediterranean Europe (+0 percent).

International tourist arrivals in the Americas increased by four percent through September. South America (+7 percent) and Central America (+6 percent) led results, followed closely by the Caribbean and North America (both +4 percent).

In Africa (+8 percent), sub-Saharan destinations rebounded strongly throughout the year, while North Africa picked up in the third quarter. Available data for the Middle East points to a six percent decrease in arrivals, though results vary from destination to destination. Results started to gradually improve in the second half of the year in both North Africa and the Middle East, according to the UNWTO.

The great majority of leading source markets in the world reported increases in international tourism expenditure during the first three to nine months of 2016, the UNWTO report highlights.

Among the top five source markets, China, the world’s top source market, continues to drive demand, reporting double-digit growth in spending (+19 percent). Likewise, robust results come from the United States (+9 percent), which benefited many destinations in the Americas and beyond. Germany reported a five percent increase in expenditure, the United Kingdom, a ten percent increase, and France, three percent growth.

In the remainder of the top ten, tourism spending grew notably in Australia and the Republic of Korea (both +9 percent), and moderately in Italy (+3 percent). By contrast, expenditure from the Russian Federation declined a massive 37 percent and from Canada a slight two percent.

Beyond the top 10, eight other markets reported double-digit growth: Egypt (+38 percent), Argentina (+27 percent), Spain (+19 percent), India (+16 percent), Thailand (+15 percent), Ukraine (+15 percent), Ireland (+12 percent) and Norway (+11 percent).

Importantly, prospects remain positive for the remaining quarter of 2016 according to the UNWTO Confidence Index. The members of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts are confident about the September-December period, mostly in Africa, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific. Although experts in Europe and the Middle East are somewhat more cautious.

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