The UNWTO said international tourism boasted robust growth last year and the sector should register continued increases in 2018.
MADRID—Global tourism increased 7% last year to more than 1.3 billion international arrivals, with Europe and Africa as regional leaders, and further growth can be expected in 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“International travel continues to grow strongly, consolidating the tourism sector as a key driver in economic development,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said Monday during a news conference at the organization’s headquarters in Madrid. “Global tourism is enjoying a very positive dynamic and we expect this to be the case again this year with growth at between 4% and 5%.”
Pololikashvili noted that the increase in 2017 was well above the sustained and consistent growth of around 4% since 2010 and represented the strongest performance in seven years.
The improvement in the global economy, a firm recovery in destinations that suffered decreases in recent years and a rebound in international tourism spending from Brazil and the Russian Federation following several years of declines all played a part in 2017 global tourism growth, he said.
Europe recorded an 8% jump in 2017 with 671 million international arrivals despite being considered a mature destination, with Mediterranean and southern European countries registering the most growth, according to the report, which was based on data from destinations worldwide.
International tourist arrivals to France and Belgium, which saw numbers drop following a series of terrorist incidents, recuperated and central and eastern European destinations also did well.
Africa consolidated its 2016 rebound to realize 8% growth with a record 62 million arrivals, which the secretary-general attributed to better tourism infrastructure and improved connectivity thanks to expanding air routes across the continent.
Travel to the Asia/Pacific region increased by 6% with 324 million visitors, while the Americas welcomed 207 million tourists for a 3% rise over 2016. In North America, Canada and Mexico registered growth, but tourist numbers decreased in the United States.
The Middle East grew by 5% with 58 million arrivals in 2017. Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey once again attracted visitors from their source markets in western Europe and the Russian Federation following two years of losses triggered by terrorism and political instability.
“Through the end of October, international arrivals were up by 55% for Egypt, 23% for Turkey and 23% for Tunisia,” said John Kester, UNWTO’s director of tourism trends and marketing strategies. “We also saw increases in most of the rest of the countries of the Middle East such as Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan, but Qatar experienced a decline because of the political problems with its neighbors.”
There’s plenty of reason for optimism for global tourism in 2018.
“Overall, we’re very happy and we think 2018 will be a very good year for the tourism industry around the world,” Pololikashvili said.
Kester said global tourism officials are now grappling with the move by citizens and municipal authorities in some extremely popular destinations such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam to restrict visitor numbers, which is worrying hoteliers and others in the travel sector.
“The answer to this is improved planning and management to better control the flow of tourists,” he said, explaining that authorities could try to spread out arrivals over the year instead of dealing with huge seasonal influxes, and urge visitors to explore lesser known areas of a city or region.
“I’m from the Netherlands and in Amsterdam, for example, some of the canals are very overcrowded in peak season, but just one street away there may be an equally lovely canal with no one there,” he said. “The stakeholders have to work with the community to find common ground. People are living in a place which tourists want to visit to enjoy but everyone has to feel comfortable.”