Southern and Mediterranean Europe has benefited from 7 percent more international arrivals over the first 8 months of 2013 than over the same time period the previous year. wikicommons

While many industries around the world struggled amid economic uncertainty, global tourism continued its rapid growth over the first eight months of 2013, when a whopping 747 million people crossed an international border. That’s 38 million more people than last year over the same time period, and well above the U.N. World Tourism Organization’s initial forecast of 3.5 percent growth.

“While global economic growth is in low gear, international tourism continues to produce above average results in most world regions, offering vital opportunities for employment and local economies,” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai enthused at the opening of the European Tourism Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania. “This is particularly important for Europe, where unemployment is a major concern in many destinations, and where the tourism sector has been a source of job growth in the last decade.

“Through its value chain, tourism creates businesses and jobs in many other sectors and produces significant export revenues which contribute favorably to the balance of payments in many countries,” Rifai added.

The latest edition of the U.N. World Tourism Barometer showed that Europe benefited the most from tourism of all regions over the first eight months of 2013, with an estimated 20 million more arrivals than in 2012. Though its increase of 5 percent put it in line with the global average, such a high figure in such a large and mature region is very positive, UNWTO said. By sub-regions, Central and Eastern Europe saw even bigger gains at 7 percent, while tourism in economically depressed Southern and Mediterranean Europe grew by 6 percent.

Asia and the Pacific also showed robust growth in early 2013, bolstered by Southeast Asia, which grew by 12 percent and added some 10 million new arrivals. The recovery of North Africa (up 6 percent) and the Middle East (up 7 percent) after two years of declines helped put these regions on an upward trajectory.

Growth in the Americas, meanwhile, was the lowest of all regions at just 3 percent, though it still gained four million additional arrivals in the first eight months of the year. North America fared better than Central America, the Caribbean and South America with 4 percent growth.

UNWTO said its panel of experts expressed a sharp increase in confidence among destinations and businesses, particularly those experts from advanced economies. The global tourism organization said it was extremely optimistic about the prospects for the final four months of 2013, despite it being the traditional low season in the more-populous Northern Hemisphere.

International travel typically reaches its apex during the Northern Hemisphere peak season of June to August. This year, international arrivals topped 125 million in both July and August, while June exceeded the 100 million arrivals mark for the first time.

Among the 25 largest international tourism earners, receipts grew by double digits in Thailand (27 percent), Hong Kong (25 percent), Turkey (22 percent), Japan (19 percent), the United Kingdom (18 percent), Greece (15 percent), India (14 percent), Malaysia (12 percent) and the United States (11 percent).

The BRIC countries, meanwhile, led in international tourism expenditure, with Brazil posting a 15 percent increase in spending, Russia 28 percent and China a whopping 31 percent. Tourism spending slowed, however, in advanced economies, and even declined in Japan, Australia and Italy.