International tourist arrivals grew by 4% in the first six months of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer published ahead of the 23rd World Tourism Organization General Assembly in St Petersburg.

The world received 671 million international tourists in the first half of 2019, with growth being led by the Middle East (8%) and Asia-Pacific (6%), while international arrivals in Europe grew 4%, in Africa 3% and the Americas 2%, according to the UNWTO’s figures.

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“The drivers of these results have been a strong economy, affordable air travel, increased air connectivity and enhanced visa facilitation. However, weaker economic indicators, prolonged uncertainty about Brexit, trade and technological tensions and rising geopolitical challenges have started to take a toll on business and consumer confidence, as reflected in a more cautious UNWTO Confidence Index,” said an UNWTO press release.

The Middle East’s figures can be largely attributed to an increase in demand during Ramadan in May and Eid Al Fitr in June, while demand across Asia-Pacific is mostly fuelled by Chinese outbound travel, according to the UNWTO barometer.

Intra-regional demand drove much of Europe’s growth, as well as demand from markets such as the US, China, Japan and the countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council. However, the performance among major European source markets was uneven, amid weakening economies, according to the UNWTO. 

Chinese outbound tourism accounted for about 14% of overseas trips in the first half of 2019 on a global scale, but spending on international travel was 4% lower in real terms than in the first half of 2018, perhaps as a result of trade tensions with the US and the slight depreciation of the renminbi.

Outbound travel from the US, the world’s second largest spender, remained robust (7%), supported by a strong dollar. In Europe, spending on international tourism by France (8%) and Italy (7%) was strong, though the UK (3%) and Germany (2%) reported more modest figures.