International tourist arrivals worldwide grew by 5% in the first four months of 2012, despite remaining economic uncertainties in some of the major outbound markets. According to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, prospects remain positive for the period May-August, the Northern Hemisphere’s summer peak season, with around 415 million tourists expected to travel abroad.
Japan, Egypt and Tunisia show clear signs of recovery
Between January and April 2012, international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide totalled 285 million, 15 million more than in the same period of 2011 (+5%).
Asia and the Pacific and Africa (both +8%), show the best results. Both regions saw a clear rebound in some of the destinations experiencing declines in 2011. In Asia and the Pacific, Japan’s inbound and outbound travel is clearly on the mend, with arrivals to the country up by 40% in the first five months of 2012. In Africa, North Africa (+11%) returned to positive growth thanks to the results of Tunisia (+48% between January and May). The Middle East also shows signs of recovery with arrivals up by 1% between January and April 2012, and particularly promising results for Egypt (+29% between January and May).
“It is very encouraging to see demand returning to countries such as Japan, Egypt and Tunisia. These are long standing tourism destinations ready to fully welcome back the millions of tourists that each year chose to visit them,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.
The Americas (+6%) recorded growth slightly above the world average, with solid results across almost all destinations. Europe (+4%) consolidated its record growth of 2011, despite continuing economic volatility in the Eurozone.
The UNWTO Confidence Index confirms these positive results. The evaluation of tourism performance in the first four months of 2012 by the over 300 participants of the latest UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts’ survey slightly exceeded their expectations expressed at the beginning of the year.
Around 415 million tourists expected to travel abroad between May and August
As the summer season gets underway in the Northern Hemisphere, the short-term outlook for international tourism remains positive. The UNWTO Confidence Index for May-August has improved compared to previous periods, particularly among experts in advanced economies.
UNWTO expects some 415 million tourists to travel internationally between May and August, the peak season in most of the world’s leading outbound markets and tourism destinations. In past years these four months represented 41% of the yearly total.
Prospects are confirmed by data on air transport booking from business intelligence tool ForwardKeys – featured for the first time in the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer – which shows that reservations for international air travel worldwide for the period May-August are 5% higher than in the same period last year. Reservations for air travel within the same region (+7%) are stronger than for air travel between regions (+4%). In general terms, growth is somewhat more moderate than in the first four months of 2012 (+7% globally). Air transport is an important tourism indicator as it represents around half of all international travel worldwide according to UNWTO destinations data.
UNWTO forecasts international tourism to increase by 3% to 4% for the full year 2012. While the pace of growth is slowing down somewhat, international overnight visitors remain firmly on track to hit the milestone of one billion arrivals expected this year.
Tourism recognized as a major driver of economic growth and development
The continued strength of tourism is particularly important in the context of the current economic uncertainty, and reinforces the need for increased political commitment and support to the sector. “The capacity of tourism to drive growth and create jobs needs to be accompanied by strong supportive public policies,” said Mr. Rifai.
For the first time, tourism has been identified by the G20 as one of the sectors that can spur the global economic recovery. Meeting last month in Mexico, the G20 underscored the role of tourism in the economy and committed to work on advancing travel facilitation as a means to stimulate demand and spending, and thus promote job creation. Sustainable tourism was further included in the Outcome Document of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development and identified as a sector that, if well-designed and managed, “can make a significant contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, create decent jobs, and generate trade opportunities”.
“UNWTO is confident that the growing political commitment in support of the sector will result in overall positive outcomes for tourism and contribute to global growth, employment and a sustainable economic transformation,” added Mr Rifai.