International tourist arrivals grew by an incredible 7% in 2017 to reach a total of 1.32 billion visitors, according to the UN World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) latest World Tourism Barometer. This momentum is expected to continue in 2018.
The result represents the best in seven years, well above the consistent growth trend of 4% or higher since 2010, said the report. Thanks to Mediterranean destinations, international tourist arrivals in Europe reached 671 million, 8% more than in 2016, which is a spectacular performance for such a large and mature region, said the UNWTO. This trend was driven by extraordinary results in southern and Mediterranean Europe, which witnessed 13% growth.
Asia and the Pacific recorded 324 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, a 6% rise, while the Americas welcomed 207 million international tourist arrivals, representing a 3% increase. South America led this expansion due to 7% growth, followed by Central America and the Caribbean at 4%, with the latter showing clear signs of recovery in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria. North America witnessed a mild 2% increase with strong results in Mexico and Canada offestting a downturn in US tourist arrivals.
Based on available data for Africa, the continent witnessed an 8% increase, thereby consolidating its 2016 rebound with a record 62 million international arrivals. In particular, North Africa enjoyed an impressive recovery with arrivals growing by 13%, while in sub-Saharan Africa arrivals rose by 5%. The Middle East received 58 million international tourist arrivals, thereby expanding by 5% in 2017.
The overall picture in 2017 was one of continued growth in many destinations and a firm recovery in those that suffered losses in previous years, said the report. Factors behind such growth include the global economic upswing and a growing outbound appetite from many traditional and emerging source markets, in particular, from Brazil and the Russian Federation, after a few years of downturn.
Greenfield FDI into the hotel and tourism sector also increased in 2017, growing from $13.97bn in 2016 to $15.2bn and, thereby, continuing a positive trend since 2014, according to fDi Markets, a greenfield investment monitor from the Financial Times.
“The buoyant economic performance seen across the world is pushing up tourism. Leading economies such as the US and EU are growing, China and India are currently benefiting from a substantial increase in their middle class population, adding up both tourism arrivals and outbound spending. Consumer confidence remains at high levels and this, together with strong international trade, contributes to growth in both business and leisure travel”, explained Rochelle Turner, research director at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
The current strong momentum is estimated to continue in 2018, though at a more temperate pace after eight years of steady growth following the 2009 financial crisis. Based on current trends, economic prospects and predictions from the UNWTO panel of experts, international tourist arrivals worldwide will grow at a rate of 4% to 5% in 2018.
The tourism sector accounts for more 10% of global GDP and one in 10 jobs around the world, according to the WTTC. “International travel continues to grow strongly, consolidating the tourism sector as a key driver in economic development. As the third export sector in the world, tourism is essential for job creation and the prosperity of communities around the world.” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.