According to Unwto figures, global international tourist arrivals grew by 4 percent (or roughly 39 million travelers) in 2012 to reach 1.035 billion, a new milestone in human travel. Emerging economies led the way with 4.1 percent growth, compared with 3.6 percent in advanced economies. Unwto expects similar growth in 2013, with numbers only forecast between 3 and 4 percent for the year, slightly below those of 2012.
Asia and the Pacific saw the largest increase at 7 percent, though the sub-regions of Southeast Asia (9 percent), as well as North Africa (9 percent) and Central/Eastern Europe (8 percent), topped the ranking.
Unwto Secretary-General Taleb Rifai noted that 2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the euro zone.
“Yet international tourism managed to stay on course,” he said. “The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013.”
Rifai said tourism was “one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world” to spur economic growth.
Despite a gloomy outlook, international tourist arrivals to Europe, the most visited region in the world, were up by 3 percent, with total arrivals reaching 535 million, 17 million more than 2011. Destinations in Southern Mediterranean Europe, meanwhile, saw the lowest growth, at 2 percent.
The Asia-Pacific region was up by 15 million arrivals in 2012, reaching a total of 233 million international tourists. South Asia and Oceania saw the slowest growth at 4 percent.
The Americas welcomed 6 million additional tourists in 2012, reaching 162 million in total, with 4 percent growth. Nations in Central America led the way with a 6 percent rise, while the Caribbean and South America saw modest increases at 4 percent.
Recovering from setbacks in 2011, Africa bounced back with 6 percent growth to reach a new record of 52 million arrivals. The situation in the Middle East, however, was less rosy. After a 7 percent decline in 2011, the region saw an additional 5 percent loss of visitors, or roughly 3 million people, in 2012.
The Unwto relies on international visitor arrival data from more than 200 governments to make its projections, which include both business and leisure travelers.
Among the world’s top 10 tourist destinations, Hong Kong soared at 16 percent growth, while the United States’ relaxed visa policies and new tourism campaign from Brand USA helped it attract 10 percent more visitors than the previous year. Japan, meanwhile, recovered from its post-earthquake and tsunami losses in 2012, with international arrivals up a whopping 37 percent. India (22 percent), South Africa (22 percent), Sweden (19 percent), South Korea (19 percent), Thailand (18 percent) and Poland (16 percent) also had an outstanding year.
In terms of outbound tourism growth, China (42 percent) and Russia (31 percent) led the way, while the UK (5 percent), the U.S. (7 percent) and Canada (7 percent) held strong. Smaller markets with considerable growth in outbound travel included Venezuela (31 percent), Poland (19 percent), Philippines (17 percent), Malaysia (15 percent), and Saudi Arabia (14 percent).
Fuelled by travelers from emerging countries, Unwto expects international tourist arrivals to increase an average of 3.8 percent each year through 2020, with Asia Pacific and Africa leading the way.
Indeed, by 2015, half of the world’s international travelers will come from emerging countries, and by the end of the decade, Unwto expects the number of world travelers to reach 1.8 billion, with one out of every 10 people working either directly or indirectly for the industry.
The trend in global tourism is unmistakable: It’s rising. Fast.