Thai protests
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C, bottom) marches with anti-government protesters during a rally in Bangkok Dec. 9, 2013. Reuters

Thailand came out on top in tourism receipt growth for the first nine months of the year at 28 percent, but if recent political strife continues in the Southeast Asian country, that growth may see a big reversal in the near future.

Overall, international tourist arrivals grew by 5 percent compared to the same period in 2012, according to the World Tourism Barometer report of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). In total, destinations around the world welcomed 845 million visitors in the first nine months, 41 million more than the same months in 2012.

Growth was especially strong in Europe and Asia Pacific, where total international tourist numbers rose 6 percent.

“International tourism continues to grow above expectations, supporting economic growth in both advanced and emerging economies and bringing much needed support to job creation, GDP, and the balance of payments of many destinations,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a statement, the Nation, a Thai publication, reported Tuesday. “It is particularly encouraging to see the strong results in many European destinations, where the tourism sector is, undoubtedly, one of the engines of the economic recovery.”

Aside from Thailand, nine countries’ tourism receipts grew by double digits: Japan at 23 percent; Hong Kong at 21 percent; the United Kingdom at 18 percent; Greece at 15 percent; India at 13 percent; Turkey at 13 percent; Taiwan at 12 percent; the United States at 11 percent; and Macao at 10 percent.

China and Russia remain leaders in terms of outbound tourism – growing 22 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in international travel expenditures during the nine months, while spending from developed markets like the U.S. and Canada remains weak. Tourism receipts in Japan, Australia and Italy declined.

While the number of foreign tourists in Thailand is expected to reach 27 million next year, political tension could hurt the nation’s tourism outlook. Since November, political protests have plagued Bangkok, the Thai capital.

Already 39 countries have issued travel warnings regarding Thailand, and December has been unusually quiet, even though December to February is the traditional high tourism season for the country, Reuters reported on Monday.