Global tourism has returned to pre-crisis levels thanks to faster recovery in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa regions, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in a report.

International tourist arrivals in the first eight months of the year was near 642 million, about 40 million more than the same period in 2009 and around a million more than in 2008. “International tourism continues to recover from the decline of 4.2 percent suffered last year under the impact of the economic crisis, a UNWTO official was quoted by AFP as saying.

According to UNWTO global tourism will expand 4 percent in 2011.

While the Asia-Pacific region is leading in tourism, many parts of Europe and the Americas are still lagging behind, the organization noted.

“Asia-Pacific region was affected most and early by the economic crisis but was also the first to show signs of recovery, recording 14 percent growth in international arrivals through August 2010, the report stated.

Among other who showed growth at a fast pace include Middle East, where tourist arrivals was up 16 percent, and Africa with 9 percent increase in the arrivals. South Africa has had a major role in the growth of tourism in whole of Africa as it hosted the FIFA World Cup 2010 earlier this year that saw an upsurge in arrivals.

Seeing the rate of recovery world tourism has witnessed, Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary-General, appealed to governments who are mulling over tax increases on travel, particularly on air transport, to halt any such increases adding that it would deter growth of economies.

Tourism is one of the most dynamic economic sectors and a key driver in creating much needed growth and employment. These impediments seriously affect our capacity to generate jobs and stimulate economic growth, namely through export earnings that are crucial to a stable economic recovery, he said.

World tourism growth has been going through ups and downs over the last ten years. It showed decline worldwide after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the SARS outbreak in 2003. The decline post global financial meltdown in late 2008 was also obvious. However, the recent report by UNWTO signals that tourism has confirmed a “strong capacity for recovery”.